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Next Time A Police Officer Says "Blow In Here", You May Want To Thank Them!

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Published: 6 Dec 2012      

The thought of taking a breathalyzer sends chills down any driver’s spine.  But soon, they may cause a sigh of relief.  A breathalyzer test has been developed, similar to the one used to determine when a driver has had too much to drink, shows promise as a screening tool for cancer.

In a new study from researchers inItaly, they were able to identify patients with colorectal cancer with an accuracy of over 75% just by analyzing samples of their breath. A person’s breath contains a variety of chemical compounds, and it has long been recognized that certain illnesses can affect how the breath smells. People with poorly controlled diabetes, for example, may have breath that smells fruity resulting from an overproduction of chemicals called ketones. Whereas people with kidney or liver failure can have fishy breath.

The researcher responsible who is conducting the cancer studies, Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Peter Mazzone, MD, says a breath test for cancer may be a reality in as little as five years if all goes well. Mazzone says the breath functions in the body works in much the same way as that of the exhaust system functions in a car, and what comes out gives a sense of how things are working inside. The device that Mazzone is testing, called an "electronic nose" sensor, changes colour based on the chemicals in the breath.

Researchers from the University Aldo Moro ofBariwere able to identify a chemical pattern that was consistent with colorectal cancer. By identifying this chemical "fingerprint" in the breath they were able to distinguish between the cancer and non-cancer patients 76% of the time in a blind test designed to hide the health status of the participants.

If Mazzone and his team are successful, similar research is under way to develop breathalyzer-like devices to detect lung, breast, prostate and other cancers.