Does Your Breath Smell Like Cancer?
5 Incredible Forms of Early Cancer Detection
Detecting cancer in the early stages increases the survival rate of people diagnosed with cancer. Here are five unique, non-invasive ways of detecting cancer in its early stages:
1. Cancer-Smelling Dogs
You've heard of drug-sniffing dogs and bomb-sniffing dogs ... but cancer-sniffing dogs? A study published in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies reported that trained dogs accurately detected lung and breast cancer 88 percent to 97 percent of the time. In a matter of only a few weeks, regular household dogs were trained to sniff out cancer using a basic food reward-based training program. Other studies have shown that dogs have also been able to detect ovarian cancer through odors detected in the breath of people inflicted with the disease.
Regular household dogs can be trained to sniff out cancer in just a few weeks!
"Cancer cells emit different metabolic waste products than normal cells," says Nicholas Broffman, executive director of the Pine Street Foundation, a cancer research organization in San Anselmo, California. These cellular waste products form specific combinations of biochemical markers (gases) that are emitted as odors on cancer patients' breath. Broffman continues, "The differences between these metabolic products are so great that they can be detected by a dog's keen sense of smell, even in the early stages of disease."
2. Lasers to Detect Cancer Breath
Dr. Patrick McCann, lead researcher at the University of Oklahoma, is confident that he has the technology to create a cancer-detecting device that will measure the gaseous biochemical markers emitted through the breath of people with cancer.
"A device that measures cancer specific gases in exhaled breath would change medical research, as we know it," claims McCann. McCann and his group of researchers specialize in innovative laser technology. This device would use lasers to read people's breath and scan it for specific biochemical markers that indicate the presence of cancer. This could be used for early cancer detection, including hard-to-detect cancers such as lung cancer.
The idea for this device came from the dogs -- the dogs who detect cancer by smelling it on people's breath. "... The dogs tell us there is something there," says McCann. Even though the technology is available for this device, it will still take about five to 10 years to get this product into the hands of doctors.
Researchers know that dogs detect gases given off by people with cancer, but they don't know what the specific make-up of the gases are. Ongoing studies are busy trying to determine that very thing in order to assist the creation of this device.
3. Fluorescent Probe Identifies Early Stages of Cancer
Dr. Matthew Bogyo, assistant professor of pathology and of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford School of Medicine and his colleagues have created a molecular probe that bonds to overactive enzymes present in cancer cells. The unusual thing about this probe is that after it is injected into the body, it lights up with fluorescence making it easy to detect cancer cells through non-invasive, non-radioactive fluorescent imaging. When cancer cells divide and multiply, a protein-eating enzyme or protease becomes overactive in the area. The molecular probe attaches to the protease. Once the protease becomes active a piece of the molecule called a "quencher" is broken off, activating the fluorescence -- much like when you crack a fluorescent light stick to make it light up.
Often times surgeons wind up removing healthy tissue in addition to cancerous tissue when removing a tumor because it is difficult to determine the exact area that is infected. Dr. Bogyo's probe will be able to show surgeons the exact amount of cancerous tissue/tumor that needs to be removed. Invasive, painful, and potentially harmful biopsies will be unnecessary. Using this method to test for breast cancer would mean no more dangerous x-rays from mammograms or unnecessary biopsies.
Another major benefit of this type of molecular probe is that it should be able to detect cancer long before tumors have a chance to spread. This probe can also detect other overactive-protease-related conditions such as strokes and Huntington's disease. This method has been undergoing tests over the last three years to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Researchers hope that this method of disease detection will be widely used within the next few years.
4. New Blood Test for Prostate Cancer
New research has discovered a way to establish more effective treatment plans and hopefully prolong the lives of people with aggressive forms of prostate cancer. The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is the most widely used test to detect prostate cancer. The downside of the PSA test is that it is not a good way to show the status of the disease -- high or low PSA levels do not necessarily coincide with how advanced the disease is.
Cancer cells break away from cancerous tumors and enter the bloodstream. Analysis of these cells -- Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) -- is very helpful in determining the strength of the cancer. A blood test can check CTC levels and help to determine how the disease is reacting to treatments, whether or not those treatments are working, and how to more effectively tailor the treatments to each patient.
5. Non-Harmful Alternative to the Mammogram
There is much controversy surrounding the mammogram's effectiveness and safety. The radiation created by the mammogram can cause cell mutation and the pressure from the machine can actually spread cancerous cells.
Thermography is a non-harmful (no radiation involved) and extremely effective alternative to the mammogram. Very early detection is possible through thermography -- years earlier than a breast self-exam (BSE) or a mammogram. This screening procedure uses thermal imaging to easily detect cancerous cells.
Mammogram interpretation is questionable. The journal Archives of Internal Medicine performed a study of 108 radiologists' interpretations and diagnoses of 79 previously interpreted mammograms. Results showed that cancer went undetected in 21% of the films. The radiologists misdiagnosed cancer in 10% of women who were actually cancer-free, and found 42% of benign lesions to be cancerous.
The thermal imaging process involves measuring the infrared heat emitted by your body. Cancer cells create a very simple network of blood vessels that are not under autonomic control. So when cold air is blown over a woman's breast during thermography, the cancerous area is very obvious to detect on the thermographic image.
Are Self Breast Exams Harmful? What Every Woman Needs to Know.
Six Cancer Screenings That Could Save Your Life.
Lovgren, Stefan. National Geographic News. Dogs Smell Cancer in Patients' Breath, Study Shows.
Science Daily. Cancer Breath? New Tool Aims to Detect Cancer Early in Exhaled Air. August 27, 2008.
Science Daily. Ovarian Cancer's Specific Scent Detected by Dogs. June 26, 2008.
Science Daily. Scientists Establish New Blood Test to Better Evaluate Prostate Cancer. October 1, 2008.
Stanford News Service. Fluorescent Probe May Aid Early Cancer Detection. August 24, 2005.
Stanford Scientific Magazine. A New Future for Cancer Diagnosis -- the Development of a Protease-Specific Fluorescent Probe. February 17, 2008.