‘Electronic Nose’ Could Smell Breath To Warn About Higher Risk of Cancer

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: An electronic device that “sniffs” breath may offer a new way to identify people with a condition that can lead to cancer of the oesophagus, researchers have revealed. According to the charity Cancer Research UK, people diagnosed with Barrett’s oesophagus — a precancerous condition in which cells lining the food pipe change and may grow abnormally — have more than 11 times greater risk of getting a particular type of oesophageal cancer called oesophageal adenocarcinoma compared with the general population. Writing in the journal Gut, Siersema and colleagues reported how they tested their device on 402 patients who were scheduled to undergo an endoscopy. Among these patients, 129 went on to be diagnosed with Barrett’s oesophagus, 141 had gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, and 132 had neither problem.

Before they underwent an endoscopy, each patient was asked to breath into an “electronic nose” — a device that can detect different volatile molecules. In the breath, such molecules result from processes in the body, however while many of these occur in a healthy individual, some may be linked to particular diseases, either reflecting changes in cells or changes in the local community of microbes caused by a disease. As a result, a particular composition within a breath sample may act as a hallmark of a condition. The team’s portable electronic nose incorporated a type of artificial intelligence to look for these patterns. […] Overall the results reveal that the nose correctly identified patients with Barrett’s oesophagus 91% of the time, while it correctly identified those without the condition 74% of the time. When the test was restricted to only those with either gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or Barrett’s oesophagus, the system was still able to distinguish patients, albeit less accurately.

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