Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Breathalyzer might be a breast cancer indicator!

I found this article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and had to share it. Shelia M. Poole wrote it and reading it just blows my mind. Here is the article in its entirety:

Can your breath help diagnose breast cancer?

Researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute and Emory Winship Cancer Institute think it might. They are adapting a process typically used in Europe to test for occupational exposure to contaminants and using it to detect the presence of breast cancer.
In a pilot study, 20 women who had been diagnosed with Stage II, III or IV breast cancer were tested. In nearly 80 percent of the cases, the results were positive for the disease. Another 20 women who were cancer-free were also tested. In 70 percent to 80 percent of those cases, the test did not show the presence of cancer.

“The technology of breath analysis has been around for decades, but the opportunity to develop a small hand-held collection/interpretation device available in physicians’ offices is why we are continuing to move forward with this research for breast and potentially other cancer detection,” said Dr. Sheryl Gabram-Mendola, deputy director of the Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady Memorial Hospital and a researcher involved in the project.

They are currently monitoring the patterns of 383 different compounds. The air that is collected is from the deepest areas of the lungs — which is where the major gas exchange takes place and where the air is the least contaminated.

The testing device is a 4-inch Teflon cylinder similar to a Breathalyzer. While it would not take the place of a mammogram, some think it could be useful to test high-risk women more frequently and to monitor breast cancer survivors for any recurrence of the disease.

Because of its portability, the device could be used easily in a doctor’s office and overseas in countries where women may not have easy access to mammography equipment. According to Dr. Gabram-Mendola, by 2020, 70 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses will be outside the U.S.
Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer among American women behind skin cancer, according to the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society. More than 190,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in U.S. women this year and more than 40,000 will die from the disease.

Although men can also get breast cancer, they were not included in this study.

“We know that breath is an indicator of what’s going on in the body,” said Charlene W. Bayer, a principal research scientist and branch head of the Environmental Exposures and Analysis Branch at Georgia Tech. She said researchers hope to do a larger patient sample soon.

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said the study is interesting but the real question is whether it will help patients.

“Does it help identify people who have breast cancer?’ Brawley said. “The second question is, does it find breast cancer at an early stage; and the third question is, does finding it at that early stage result in saving lives? If all the answers are yes, then you have a great test.”

A few years ago, several studies looked at using dogs trained to detect certain cancers in humans through the sense of smell. In 2005, the BMI, a leading British medical journal, published the results of a study that showed that dogs can be trained to sniff out bladder cancer.

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