What if you could detect cancer by a gadget that can sniff for cancer or some other disease? The theory that disease is detectable from exhaled breath dates back to about 400 BC when the Greek physician Hippocrates used to smell his patients' breath to find out what ailed them. More recently a number of individual diseases, such as diabetes, have been detected with "breath analysis".
But Israeli scientist Hossam Haick and others wanted to invent a medical diagnostic tool (an "electronic nose") that could detect multiple diseases, including cancer, by "sniffing" a patient’s exhaled breath. They recently published a study suggesting that such a device that they developed can work for 17 diseases (including 8 types of cancer, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and chronic kidney failure). The results showed that each of these diseases has its own unique "breathprint", and which overall could be detected with 86% accuracy using the device.
The study used breath samples collected from 1,404 people from 2011 to 2014 in 5 countries (Israel, the United States, Latvia, China, and France). The test subjects were either known to be healthy or to be suffering from one of the 17 diseases. Please note that this diagnostic tool is currently being further researched and developed. It is not available yet.
From Science Daily: Nanoarray sniffs out and distinguishes multiple diseases
Before modern medical lab techniques became available, doctors diagnosed some diseases by smelling a patient's breath. Scientists have been working for years to develop analytical instruments that can mimic this sniff-and-diagnose ability. Now, researchers report in the journal ACS Nano that they have identified a unique "breathprint" for each disease. Using this information, they have designed a device that screens breath samples to classify and diagnose several types of diseases.
Exhaled breath contains nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen, as well as a small amount of more than 100 other volatile chemical components. The relative amounts of these substances vary depending on the state of a person's health. As far back as around 400 B.C., Hippocrates told his students to "smell your patients' breath" to search for clues of diseases such as diabetes (which creates a sweet smell). In more recent times, several teams of scientists have developed experimental breath analyzers, but most of these instruments focus on a single type of disease, such as cancer. In their own work, Hossam Haick and a team of collaborators in 14 clinical departments worldwide wanted to create a breathalyzer that could distinguish among multiple diseases.
The researchers developed an array of nanoscale sensors to detect the individual components in thousands of breath samples from patients who were either healthy or had one of 17 different diseases, such as kidney cancer or Parkinson's disease. By analyzing the results with artificial intelligence techniques, the team could use the array to classify and diagnose the conditions. The team used mass spectrometry to identify the breath components associated with the diseases. They found that each disease produces a unique volatile chemical breathprint, based on differing amounts of 13 components. They also showed that the presence of one disease would not prevent the detection of others -- a prerequisite for developing a practical device to screen and diagnose various diseases in a noninvasive, inexpensive and portable manner.