A clinical trial has been launched to see if a breath test could detect the presence of cancer, reports BBC.
Researchers want to find out if signals of different cancer types can be picked up in patterns of breath molecules. The Cancer Research UK team in Cambridge will collect breath samples from 1,500 people, some with cancer.
They could potentially be used alongside blood and urine tests to help doctors detect cancer at an early stage, the researchers said.
But it will be two years before the results of the exploratory trial are known.
GPs’ leaders said the research was exciting but they warned patients that breath tests to detect cancer were “unlikely to be commonplace at their GP practice anytime soon”.
Molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released when cells in the body carry out biochemical reactions as part of their behaviour.
But if cancer or other conditions are present, the normal behaviour of cells is altered and they appear to produce a different pattern of molecules - and a different signature smell.
Their ultimate aim is to work out if different types of cancer produce different patterns - or signatures - which can be detected at an early stage.
This is the start of the trial so we won’t know for several years whether or not the initial results are promising. The science behind the test itself is not new. Many researchers around the world have been working on the possibility of breath tests for a number of cancers, including lung, for a number of years.
There are some promising signs that breath tests could detect pre-cancerous symptoms, but it is not yet clear how accurate they are.
Any breath test used on large numbers of patients would have to be sensitive and accurate to avoid misdiagnoses and false positives.
In short, there is a long way to go and much more research needed on more people before a breath test will be appearing in any GP surgeries.