Researchers have developed a new groundbreaking device that uses exhaled breath to accurately detect lung cancer and identify its stage of progression.
The breathalyser test is embedded with a "NaNose" nanotech chip to literally "sniff out" cancer tumours.
The study was conducted on 358 patients who were either diagnosed with or at risk for lung cancer.
"Lung cancer diagnoses require invasive procedures such as bronchoscopies, computer-guided biopsies, or surgery. Our new device combines several novel technologies with a new concept - using exhaled breath as a medium of diagnosing cancer," said Dr Nir Peled of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
"Our NaNose was able to detect lung cancer with 90 per cent accuracy even when the lung nodule was tiny and hard to sample. It was even able to discriminate between subtypes of cancer, which was unexpected," said Peled.
Lung cancer tumours produce chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which easily evaporate into the air and produce a discernible scent profile.
Professor Hossam Haick of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology harnessed nanotechnology to develop the highly sensitive NaNose chip, which detects the unique "signature" of VOCs in exhaled breath.
In four out of five cases, the device differentiated between benign and malignant lung lesions and even different cancer subtypes.
"Cancer cells not only have a different and unique smell or signature, you can even discriminate between subtypes and advancement of the disease. The bigger the tumour, the more robust the signature," said Peled.
The device and subsequent analysis accurately sorted healthy people from people with early-stage lung cancer 85 per cent of the time, and healthy people from those with advanced lung cancer 82 per cent of the time.
The test also accurately distinguished between early and advanced lung cancer 79 per cent of the time.
"The device could prove valuable in helping determine patients who need more intensive screening for lung cancer. We're hoping to have a device that would be able to give you a go/no-go result — something's wrong, go get an X-ray," said Peled.
The Boston-based company Alpha Szenszor has licensed the technology and hopes to introduce it to the market within the next few years.
The study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.