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Could a breath test help doctors spot lung cancer earlier? Researchers review the evidence

In a new review, researchers assess whether a breath test has the potential to help doctors spot lung cancer earlier. At the moment, doctors test lung cells directly to see if they show signs of cancer. But breath tests could present an easier and cheaper option.

Breath tests work by measuring substances called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when someone breathes out. These substances are released from cells in the lungs. It is thought that changes in lung cells, such as a cell becoming cancerous, can lead to changes in the VOCs released. Measuring VOCs could therefore help doctors understand what is happening to lung cells.

This paper, published in the European Respiratory Review, explains that there is already some evidence that breath tests looking at VOCs could spot diseases like lung cancer in patients. In particular, one study showed that this test could spot the difference between early lung cancer, and other diseases with similar symptoms.

The evidence also suggests that this test could help doctors understand what treatment might be best for each patient.

Overall, the researchers explain that there is still a lot of work to do to develop breath tests that are accurate enough to spot lung cancer, and that can be used by doctors. More good quality research is needed before this type of test could start to benefit patients. 

Read the journal article in full.

Read our factsheet on lung cancer.

Visit the Patient Priorities website on Lung Cancer.

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