Breathe Easy
June 2, 2014

Breathe Easy

One of the most crucial steps to treating any form of cancer is detecting it. Common sense, right? If you do not know you have cancer, then how are you supposed to get yourself treated for it? Unfortunately, detecting that a patient has cancer is not always a simple process. It can be time consuming, expensive, unpleasant, and many other things that make being checked something people will often try to avoid. Fortunately, this may no longer be the case for detecting lung cancer, as the results of a study conducted at the University of Colorado Cancer Center has yielded results that could lead to a much simpler, inexpensive detection method for identifying lung cancer, and all that the patient has to do is blow up a balloon.

The idea, according to Dr. Fred R. Hirsch, MD, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center and professor of medical oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, was to develop a non-traumatic, easy, and cheap approach for detecting and differentiating lung cancer. This new procedure has the patient blow up a balloon, which is then connected to a sensitive gold nanoparticle sensor that traps and analyze volatile organic compounds in the exhaled breath. This method is able to identify and distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous lung nodules, which often cause false-positive results in many other current tests. According to Hirsch, “The goal of this tool is to use breath biomarkers to distinguish malignant from benign screen-detected nodules.”

In addition to its use as a cancer screening device, this tool may prove to have other applications as well, such as monitoring how well a patient may be responding to treatments. “In addition to using levels of volatile organic compounds to diagnose lung cancer, we could eventually measure the change in patients’ levels of VOCs across time with the intent of, for example, monitoring how well a patient responds to specific treatments,” says Hirsch. By using a breath before and a breath after a treatment is given, doctors could determine how if the patient should stay with the current treatment method or explore other options. This alone could greatly improve the treatment of lung cancer and help improve a patient’s chances of survival.

Furthermore, future versions of the device could even be set so that they can help identify specific cancer subtypes, and not just identify between malignant and benign nodules. What this could do is help doctors quickly and inexpensively determine what sort of treatment to start a patient on or determine what additional treatments need to be done based on the initial findings, both of which will serve to improve the odds in the patient’s favor. The quicker you start treatment, the better off you will be.

This incredible early-detection tool will likely save countless lives once it is put into practice all over the world. A breakthrough in the fight against lung cancer, it will help doctors more quickly diagnose their patients while avoiding the potential cancer scares other treatment methods could sometimes cause.

All by blowing up a balloon.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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