A nanomaterial-based breath test showed promise in a clinical trial as an extremely precise and inexpensive way to diagnose stomach cancer, researchers from Israel, China and Latvia have determined.
The BBC reports on the new study, which comes from the work of scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, The First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui Medical University in China, and the University of Latvia, among others. Details are published in the British Journal of Cancer.
Scientists studied breath samples from 130 patients, and their diagnostic displayed an 89% sensitivity and 90% specificity at spotting gastric cancer versus other non-cancerous stomach ailments. Specifically, the diagnostic spotted stomach cancer patients through its identification of five organic compounds found in elevated levels in the breath of patients with gastric cancer, compared to folks who had other more benign stomach ailments. (Apparently, cancer gives off a particular smell, based on those compounds, and the BBC explains that scientists are also pursuing breath-related diagnostics for lung and other cancers.)
As well, the breath diagnostic was precise enough to stage stomach cancers, determining whether it was early or late-stage. Of the total involved in the study, 37 patients actually had stomach cancer, but 32 simply had stomach ulcers. The other 61 reported a variety of other stomach issues, according to the story.
Such a diagnostic test would be a big step up over the current standard of care for stomach cancer diagnosis. As the BBC points out, patients who face possible stomach cancer must endure an endoscopy in order to obtain a biopsy of the stomach lining. The test is expensive and time-consuming.
While more human testing is needed, the breath diagnostic stands a chance of offering an effective and cheaper alternative to endoscopic biopsies if it can succeed. And it could also help boost stomach cancer survival rates by improving the chance of an earlier diagnosis. As the BBC notes, stomach cancer patients are often identified at a late stage of the disease, after which 5-year survival rates are very low.