A new study aimed at improving lung cancer screening hit upon a revolutionary method to initially identify symptoms of the disease — and it involves breathing into a balloon.
Lung cancer currently kills 160,000 Americans each year, and initial screening tests carry a high rate of false positives as well as sometimes invasive or expensive diagnostics.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center presented their findings at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), reporting a differentiation rate of 85 percent of patients diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and of 79 percent on patients with advanced lung cancer versus early stage lung cancer.
Fred R. Hirsch, of the University of Colorado Cancer Center and professor of medical oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, commented on the new discovery and its potential value to both clinicians and patients:
“This could totally revolutionize lung cancer screening and diagnosis. The perspective here is the development of a nontraumatic, easy, cheap approach to early detection and differentiation of lung cancer.”
Hirsch says of the challenges faced in diagnosing lung cancer:
“The metabolism of lung cancer patients is different than the metabolism of healthy people… You detect many, many nodules in those screenings and unfortunately, around 90 percent of them are benign. So you need to find out how to better distinguish malignant from benign modules. The goal of this tool is to use breath biomarkers to distinguish malignant from benign screen-detected nodules.”
The NaNose concept uses a balloon to collect samples of a patient’s breath, which is then exposed to a gold nanoparticle sensor. Attached to a USB device, the provided samples can then be rapidly used to screen for lung cancer.
Hirsch, in a press release, envisioned a future in which patients can find the test readily accessible in supermarkets and similar venues, adding:
“If it works, you can imagine standing in the grocery store and having high risk people blow into a balloon or a USB device, and the profile of the organic compounds in their breath would tell you if they are at risk for developing or having lung cancer, which then could lead to further, focused tests.”
In addition to lung cancer screening, the technology presents other opportunities for diagnosis and treatment. Researchers say that when fully developed (years of research will still be necessary), doctors may also be able to use the test to determine a patient’s response to certain medications and treatments.