Breath and Urine Tests Now Able To Detect Early Breast Cancer

You may have heard stories before about dogs or even cats being able to sniff out breast cancer and alert their owners. Now researchers have developed a tool that can detect early breast cancer by using a similar concept: the electronic nose.

Developed in Israel through research teams at Ben-Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center, this new technology is inexpensive, non-invasive, and most importantly, more accurate than some current methods.

The researchers published their findings in Computers in Biology and Medicine in April of 2018. The study had two different parts: breath analysis and urine analysis.

The Study

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Tyler Olson and Wikimedia Commons/MD Diagnostics Ltd
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Tyler Olson and Wikimedia Commons/MD Diagnostics Ltd

The research team was able to use two different electronic noses (e-noses) to hone in on unique breath patterns in women. The e-nose technology was already commercially available — making the cost reasonable — and the team was able to use them to sense the specific biomarkers they were looking for.

They collected breath samples from 48 breast cancer patients, and additional samples from 45 healthy patients. With one of the e-noses, they detected early breast cancer with over 95% accuracy. The other e-nose had an accuracy of 85%.

Using gas-chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS), the team was also able to analyze cancer biomarkers in urine. For this test, they looked at 36 healthy patients, and 37 breast cancer patients who had already been diagnosed through a mammogram but not through any type of surgery. They detected breast cancer with 85% accuracy using this method, mirroring the accuracy of the second e-nose used.

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Pitfalls of Current Screening Methods

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/jovannig
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/jovannig

The most popular method currently used to detect breast cancer is the mammography machine. It is 75%-85% accurate unless you have dense breasts; if you do, the accuracy drops to 30%-50%, a significant difference. This is because small tumors are often hard to pick out in the images of dense breasts because both show up white during screening. Also, false positives are more common than they should be, and may lead to unnecessary radiation, chemo, or surgery, as well as emotional stress and financial difficulty.

Biopsies are invasive as they require surgery, and MRI’s, while they can be helpful for women with dense breasts if given in conjunction with mammograms, are expensive — and also churn out more false positives than mammograms.

The team is optimistic that the e-nose technology will be able to accurately detect other cancers as well once it is studied more. We can’t wait to see non-invasive procedures like this become the norm in the future!

Click “NEXT” to learn how some dogs are able to detect breast cancer (without any help from electronic sniffers)!


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