Breath Test to Possibly Detect Cancer

Could a simple breath test help to spot patients at high risk of developing stomach cancer?


Breath Test to Detect Compounds in Breath

A study has just been published which suggests that it may be possible for a breath test to detect chemical compounds in the breath which are linked to pre cancerous changes. The research looked at breath samples from 145 patients, including 30 with known stomach cancer, whilst the remaining 115 had concerning symptoms. The test was fairly accurate in distinguishing cancerous cells from non cancerous ones as well as identifying pre cancerous changes, but it was not always accurate and further research is now to be carried out to make sure that the test is as sensitive and accurate as possible, before consideration is given to this being used more widely.

For many people, visiting their GP when they have symptoms such as difficulty in swallowing, weight loss and indigestion might be the first opportunity for them to be referred for investigations. GPs need to carefully assess which of their patients presenting with these symptoms is at risk of cancer, and therefore should be referred for further investigation. As 90% of the people diagnosed with cancer are over the age of 55, GPs should urgently refer a patient of that age who has indigestion, which has come on recently and cannot be relieved by indigestion treatment, for an endoscopy (a test which looks inside the body using a tiny camera at the end of a flexible tube).

For younger patients, a GP should consider the possibility of stomach cancer and make an urgent referral if patients are being sick continuously and are losing weight, or have weight loss or anaemia which cannot be explained.


Cancer Research UK advise that as indigestion is such a common symptom, having this symptom alone shouldn’t worry you, but if it is combined with weight loss, anaemia or being sick then you should be referred by your GP to a specialist. Difficulty in swallowing however is not a common problem and therefore anyone with swallowing problems should always be investigated further.

If a breath test can be developed to help predict those people who are at high risk of developing stomach cancer that should assist with prompt diagnosis. Patients will have the best chance of successful treatment if their cancer is diagnosed early, so this could be a life saving breakthrough.