The possibility of detecting cancer by a well placed sniff of the breath is a very real thing. The fact that dogs can sniff out prostate cancer in male patients has been increasingly capitalized upon in recent years, but the same early detection method cannot be said for women suffering from ovarian cancer. In fact, the detection methods currently available usually detect the presence of ovarian cancer rather late into its existence. However, science is about to give us a leg up on detecting ovarian cancer, requiring nothing more from the woman but for her to breathe!
The human breath is a powerful weapon, more powerful than most people think. Our breath has the ability to reveal more than the remnants of a person’s last meal or a breathalyzer test giving away the alcohol content of their last drink. In fact, scientifically speaking, the breath is a gateway to many revelations about the inner workings of the body. The exhaled breath has within it a series of biomarkers that can point to the presence of certain diseases, including cancer. In the past, however, the detection of cancer through such a method would require access to bulky equipment that was more than a little expensive.
Previous methods of ovarian cancer detection required various imaging and invasive techniques, of which the goal was to acquire a tissue sample to be examined under a microscope and the cells tested for proteins or genetic material. The Israeli study consisted of a group of 43 volunteers, 17 of whom were ovarian cancer patients and the sensor had a accuracy detection rate of 82 percent. As it is currently, most women are not tested for ovarian cancer, only those a high risk for the disease. Symptoms of ovarian cancer usually do not manifest in patients until the cancer has become quite advanced, and this usually means that ovarian cancer is not detected in many women until it is too late. While ovarian cancer only accounts for approximately three percent of all cancers that affect women, it is the leading cause of death in women caused by cancer in the female reproductive system.
Israeli scientists have made a great breakthrough in the field of cancer detection through breath, though, and it will result in much earlier detection of cancer. It is ovarian cancer specifically that the machine will be able to detect through a pain free and low cost method. According to Science Alert, the researchers have claimed that this method will allow for not just a safer method of ovarian cancer detection, but also one that is more accurate than any that is currently in use. The use of a “breathalyzer test” to detect cancer is actually not a new technology, but the Israeli team technology gathers a significantly higher amount of data and all in a compact and low cost kit. The main limitation of the past was linked to the need for large sensor arrays to detect the volatile organic compounds (VOC) that are linked to diseases, specifically those linked to ovarian cancer. The lead investigator, Nicole Kahn, explained why this was an essential step to cancer detection using the breath.
“Changes in metabolism that accompany a specific illness cause changes in the composition and/or concentration of VOCs in the breath.”
The technology that the researchers at Technion−Israel Institute of Technology and Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, Israel have developed involve tiny flexible sensors that each has the ability to duplicate the work of many. Mental Floss reported that the flexibility of the sensors is what makes them able to collect more data from breaths than other methods and as such enable the creation of a physically smaller and cheaper cancer sensor system. Reportedly the researchers will be working on a way to make the sensors even smaller and more sensitive before they begin clinical trials.
The team also hopes to apply the “breath” analysing technology to detect other cancers besides ovarian, as well as other diseases entirely such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Hopefully the technology that uses a woman’s breath to discover ovarian cancer will lead to less deaths for those diagnosed with the disease.
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