'Revolutionary' breath test to detect cancer trial begins

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Stacey Foster

A clinical trial to develop a breath test for cancer has been launched by researchers.

The test, which is the first of its kind, analyses molecules that could indicate whether cancer is present in a person's breath at an early stage.

The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre is operating the trial, which hopes to develop the test which would potentially provide a non-invasive manner to ascertain if someone has cancer at an early stage.

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead trial investigator at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, told ITV News: "The idea behind this is revolutionary because the problem with cancer is, at the moment, that cases present at a very advanced stage; around 50 per cent of cases prevent when quite advanced, which means the treatment is quite invasive: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery.

"If you detect cancer earlier, the treatments you need are much, much less invasive."

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald. Credit: ITV News

The apparatus works by a patient blowing into the machine for 15 minutes which then stores the person's breath in cylinders and they are sent off to be tested to see if odorous molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be detected.

"It's still a long way off but this is exciting science."

Around 1500 people, referred by their GP, will take part in the clinical trial at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

Patients with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers will be the first to undergo the trial and then it will expand to include those with prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers in the coming months.

"I think the stage we're at is that the technology is ripe for testing."

If it is proved the technology works, the system could be put in place at GP practices throughout the country within a few years.