July 18, 2018
1 min read

Breath test analysis spots pancreatic cancer

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Identifying certain compounds found in breath samples helped distinguish patients with pancreatic cancer from those without, according to research published in the British Journal of Surgery.

George Hanna, PhD, FRCS , of the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College in London, and colleagues wrote the role of these volatile organic compounds (VOC) found in the breath have been studied in other cancers in the past.

“Breath VOC sampling is a completely non-invasive test with high acceptability among patients and clinicians,” they wrote, adding that they envision these tests being used to determine the risk for pancreatic cancer in patients to help guide referral for CT scan.

To quantify differences in exhaled breath VOCs of patients with pancreatic cancer compared with those without, Hanna and colleagues recruited two cohorts; one for development, and one for validation. The development cohort included 25 patients with cancer, 20 patients with benign pancreatic disease and 23 patients with a normal pancreas. The validation cohort included 32 patients with cancer, 24 positive controls and 8 patients with a healthy pancreas.

Investigators collected breath samples from each patient and analyzed them using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

In the development group, Hanna and colleagues found 66 VOCs and identified 12 compounds that were significantly dysregulated in patients with pancreatic cancer. The compounds belonged to three main chemical groups: aldehydes, alkanes and alcohols, according to the study.

In an analysis of these significant VOCs in the validation group, investigators found that the breath test had 81% sensitivity and 58% specificity for differentiating cancer from no cancer, as well as a 70% sensitivity and 74% specificity for differentiating adenocarcinoma from no cancer.

“The results provide the foundation for a planned, large multicenter study that could further establish the potential of breath VOC testing as a diagnostic tool for pancreatic cancers,” the researchers wrote. “The final application of breath testing in the patient care pathway will depend on test sensitivity and specificity in large multicenter clinical trials, and its performance in early pancreatic cancer and high-risk groups.” – by Alex Young

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.