Breath, urine tests detect breast cancer more accurately, say researchers

Using readily-available technology, Israeli scientists have demonstrated unprecedented success in identifying early tumors.

April 25, 2018 18:23
1 minute read.
A monitor shows the image of a woman infected with breast cancer.

A monitor shows the image of a woman infected with breast cancer.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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A screening method that, more accurately and earlier, detects breast cancer by identifying biomarkers has been developed Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka-University Medical Center researchers.

The biomarkers are identified by using two electronic nose gas sensors for breath, along with gas-chromatography mass spectrometry to quantify patterns of substances in urine.

The new technology, using commercially available technology, has just been published in the journal Computers in Biology and Medicine.

In their study, researchers detected breast cancer with more than 95% average accuracy using two different commercial electronic noses (e-noses) that identify unique breath patterns in women with breast cancer. In addition, their revamped statistical analyses of urine samples submitted both by healthy patients and those diagnosed with breast cancer yielded 85% average accuracy.

“Breast cancer survival is strongly tied to the sensitivity of tumor detection; accurate methods for detecting smaller, earlier tumors remains a priority,” says Prof. Yehuda Zeiri, a member of BGU’s department of biomedical engineering. “Our new approach utilizing urine and exhaled breath samples – analyzed with inexpensive, commercially available systems – is noninvasive, accessible and may be easily implemented in a variety of settings.”

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy among women and their leading cause of death around the world. In 2016, breast cancer accounted for 29% of all new cancers identified in the US and was responsible for 14% of all cancer-related deaths.

Mammograms which are proven to significantly reduce breast cancer mortality, are not always able to detect small tumors in dense breast tissue. In fact, typical mammography sensitivity, which is 75% to 85% accurate, decreases to 30% to 50% in dense tissue.

Current diagnostic imaging detection for smaller tumors has significant drawbacks; dual-energy digital mammography, while effective, increases radiation exposure, and magnetic resonance imaging is expensive. Biopsies and serum biomarker identification processes are invasive, equipment-intensive and require significant expertise.

“We’ve now shown that inexpensive, commercial electronic noses are sufficient for classifying cancer patients at early stages,” said Zeiri. “With further study, it may also be possible to analyze exhaled breath and urine samples to identify other cancer types as well.”

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