A simple breath test can successfully diagnose stomach cancer and distinguish cancer from other complications in the digestive system, scientists from Israel, China and Latvia have found.
According to the scientists, the test was 90 percent accurate in differentiating cancers from other stomach ailments in 130 patients.
The breath test is expected to simplify the process of diagnosing stomach cancer, considered one of the most deadly types of the disease, and it could one day replace gastroscopy, in which a flexible tube equipped with a camera is inserted from the mouth into the upper digestive tract (stomach and duodenum) in a more invasive procedure that some patients find off-putting.
The breath test is based on artificial or "electronic nose” technology, in which sensors “sniff out” the chemical compounds of stomach cancer or other diseases. Molecules unique to cancer patients rise up from the stomach though the esophagus and are exhaled into the apparatus. Internal sensors that identify the chemical compounds are connected to another unit that analyzes them by means of an algorithm.
The initial trial of the breath test examined 130 Chinese patients who complained of digestive issues. Three-quarters of the samples were used to help program the apparatus, so that it could successfully identify tumors. After that, five chemicals were identified that point to cancer in the patient as opposed to other digestive system ailments.
Then, the remaining one-quarter of samples were sent to Israel for testing and the researchers did not know from which subjects they were taken. They found that 90 percent of the time the test accurately identified whether the subject suffered from stomach cancer or other complications in the digestive system, such as an ulcer or the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. The test also revealed 94 percent accuracy in determining whether the cancer was in an early or advanced stage, and 77 percent accuracy in distinguishing between ulcers and less serious complications in the digestive system.
The research team was headed by Prof. Hosam Haick of the chemical engineering faculty at the Technion in Haifa and included researchers from the Anhei Province University Hospital in China and the University of Latvia. The team published its findings in The British Journal of Cancer, their findings have already been touted as a breakthrough in the diagnosis of digestive system complications.
In Israel 600 patients per year are diagnosed with stomach cancer. Only one in five of those is diagnosed at an early stage, when surgery to remove the tumor is still possible.
Previous studies using the “artificial nose” have proven its ability to identify cancer of the urinary tract, skin, kidneys, breasts and the Fallopian tubes. Studies completed recently have also demonstrated its ability to diagnose lung cancer.