A sort of “electronic nose” can identify patients with lung cancer by detecting specific compounds in their breath, investigators report.
As the name implies, an electronic nose is a device that analyzes volatile organic compounds. These devices, which have been used in the food industry and other commercial applications, rely on chemical vapor sensors that are capable of detecting subtle differences in odorant molecules.
In the study reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, investigators first “trained” the device by having it analyze the breath of 14 patients with lung cancer and 45 healthy controls.
This exercise showed that there were indeed distinct properties to the breath of lung cancer patients, Dr. Serpil C. Erzurum, from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, and colleagues found.
The data from the learning process were then applied to an investigation of a second group of 76 subjects - 14 with and 62 without lung cancer. The nose correctly identified 71 percent of the people with lung cancer and 92 percent of those that did not have the condition.
“This study demonstrates the feasibility of clinical monitoring of volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath using a multisensor electronic nose as a relatively convenient and noninvasive test in patients with suspected lung cancer,” the authors conclude.
SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, June 2005.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD