Pee in a cup to diagnose gastroesophageal cancer

Scientists from the Imperial College of London successfully spotted gastroesophageal cancer biomarkers in the gas given off by urine samples. And all they need is a sealed specimen cup and a mass spectrometer to identify them.

Through the use of the machine on sealed containers of urine, they determined that the cancer patients in their study had much higher concentrations of acetaldehyde, acetone, acetic acid, hexanoic acid, hydrogen sulfide and methanol in their urine than healthier control groups. Chemical and Engineering News reports on the research, which the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry outlines in detail.

The research team refers to the gas given off by urine as "volatile organic compounds" that are located in the "headspace vapor" of a given urine sample. And they believe that if subsequent research can match and broaden their findings, that the biomarkers they find in urine vapor offer a potential way to catch gasteroesophageal cancer earlier and begin treatment far sooner than current methods, such as endoscopic procedures. And a sealed urine sample may be the diagnostic way to go, they believe, because it carries some of the same biomarkers from gastroesophageal juices found internally, according to the story.

For their study, the scientists looked at urine samples from 17 patients who had gastroesophageal cancer, 13 who were healthy, and 14 that had stomach problems but no cancer. Researchers placed the samples into specimen cups and sealed them, and then used a hypodermic needle connected to a tube to allow a mass spectrometer to measure the samples. At least two of the compounds--acetylaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide--have previously been linked to gastroesophageal cancer in earlier research, the Imperial College of London's George Hanna (and a lead researcher) told Chemical Engineering News.

He noted to the publication that this expansion of diagnostic possibilities for gastroesophageal cancer patients would be crucial. Patients don't always know they have the cancer until it is very advanced, so early diagnosis, he said, could make all the difference. Subsequent research work, he noted, will involve the testing urine of patients with colon cancer, among other indications.

- read the full story
- here's the journal abstract