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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens

Early Detection of Lung Cancer May Be Possible From Exhaled Breath

New test of suspected lung cancer is simple, with high accuracy rate; encouraging to senior citizens – average age of diagnosis today is about 70

Jan. 28, 2014 - Specific compounds found in exhaled breath may help diagnose lung cancer in its early stages, according to a study released today at the 50th Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. The discovery was made when Michael Bousamra, MD. and researchers from the University of Louisville examined patients with suspicious lung lesions. Lung cancer mainly occurs in senior citizens - about 2 out of 3 people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older.

The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 70, according to the American Cancer Society.

Using a silicone microprocessor and mass spectrometer, the researchers tested exhaled breath for the presence and levels of specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs; aldehydes and ketones, collectively called carbonyls) in patients with suspected lung cancer that was detected on computed tomography scans. The researchers then matched their findings with pathologic and clinical results.


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“Although the data are preliminary, we found that patients with an elevation of three or four cancer-specific carbonyl compounds was predictive of lung cancer in 95% of patients with a pulmonary nodule or mass,” said Dr. Bousamra. “Conversely, the absence of elevated VOC levels was predictive of a benign mass in 80% of patients.”

The carbonyl compounds used in the study analysis are a subset of VOCs called aldehydes and ketones, which are organic compounds with a carbon double-bonded to oxygen. These compounds are at very low concentrations and are produced by the human body.

“Instead of sending patients for invasive biopsy procedures when a suspicious lung mass is identified, our study suggests that exhaled breath could identify which patients may be directed for an immediate intraoperative biopsy and resection,” said Dr. Bousamra. The researchers found that elevated carbonyl concentrations returned to normal following complete resection in patients with a malignant nodule.

Lung Cancer Statistics

Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women and survival most often depends on the stage of the cancer when it is diagnosed.

Despite the very serious prognosis (outlook) of lung cancer, some people with earlier stage cancers are cured. More than 380,000 people alive today have been diagnosed with lung cancer at some point.

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for lung cancer in the United States for 2013 are:

  >> About 228,190 new cases of lung cancer (118,080 in men and 110,110 in women)

  >> An estimated 159,480 deaths from lung cancer (87,260 in men and 72,220 among women), accounting for about 27% of all cancer deaths

“The novelty of this approach includes the simplicity of sample collection and ease for the patient,” said Dr. Bousamra.

The silicone microprocessor used in the study was developed at the University of Louisville. It was coated with an amino-oxy compound that binds to carbonyl compounds in exhaled breath.


The number of patients included in the analysis may differ from what is reflected in the abstract due to further analysis conducted by the authors.

Founded in 1964, The Society of Thoracic Surgeons is a not-for-profit organization representing more than 6,800 cardiothoracic surgeons, researchers, and allied health care professionals worldwide who are dedicated to ensuring the best possible outcomes for surgeries of the heart, lung, and esophagus, as well as other surgical procedures within the chest. The Society’s mission is to enhance the ability of cardiothoracic surgeons to provide the highest quality patient care through education, research, and advocacy.




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