Researchers Develop New Lung Cancer Detection Test Using VOCs to Identify

In a stunning development, researchers at the University of Louisville have found volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the breath of lung cancer patients. Seven VOCs were identified in the study of breath samples for people known to have a lung cancer diagnosis.

The identified VOCs were butyric acid, solanine, undecanal, acetic acid, heptanone, hexanone, and cyclopentanone. Finding ways to detect lung cancer in the earlier stages may be the key to lowering the mortality rate and extending the survival rate.

Lung cancer is one of the top three most common forms of cancer in the world and has high fatalities. Its high mortality is due to diagnoses happening in the late stages, making it harder to treat aggressive cancer. The study focused on the 7 VOCs that detect lung cancer in a person’s breath by filtering out hundreds of other VOCs that are present. Using the support vector machine-recursive feature elimination, they were able to select similar VOCs to then conduct further research about their commonalities. In the study, there were 414 people tested — 156 patients with untreated lung cancer, 65 patients with benign pulmonary nodules, and 193 healthy controls — all of their breath samples were used to sample for common VOCs.

In studying the comparisons between each group’s breath and the VOCs present in their samples, researchers were able to see which VOCs were prevalent for each group. For cancer detection, 3-hydroxy-2-butanone, tridecenal, undecanal, hydroxyl-acetaldehyde, heptanal, hexanal, and pentenal were common with all persons with a lung cancer diagnosis. The above carbonyl VOCs used to detect cancer in this study have a higher mean classification accuracy (92%) and lower standard error (0.03) than other combinations.

A key finding from this experimental breath test is that non-invasive lung cancer detection can work with high accuracy. This benefits the community being affected by lung cancer because the potential for early cancer detection can change the course of treatment and prognosis for patients.

What Are VOCs and Why Are They Harmful?

Volatile organic compounds are compounds that, at room temperature, have high vapor pressure and can be emitted as gases. VOCs are mostly man-made chemicals, such as paint, pharmaceuticals, and refrigerants, and they can be harmful. Asbestos inhalation symptoms can be similar to VOC inhalation, but the two differentiate, with asbestos being naturally occurring and VOCs being human-made compounds.

VOC’s potential risk factors can be determined by the amount and extended presence they may leave. Since they are common in household items, the levels of VOCs are concentrated higher inside than outside. Consistent inhalation of VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat and may lead to more serious health issues if left unaddressed.

To protect yourself from an unhealthy amount of VOCs, be sure to look for products labeled as low or no VOC. Also, consider including proper ventilation in a room while painting, and before adding new carpet or wood flooring, let the materials air out before installing. Common household items that contain VOCs are paint, varnish, carpet, wood flooring, furniture, office printers, and arts and crafts products.

While it may be impossible for those who work around or handle these items daily to avoid them completely, by following the protection guidelines above, you can help keep yourself safer. If you are one who works within industries that have consistent exposure to any combination of VOCs, it may be time for you to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss screening for lung cancer.

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VOCs Potential Role in The Onset of Lung Cancer

The onset of lung cancer can be more likely from the inactivation of tumor protein 53 or TM53. This TM53 gene can play a role in many forms of cancer, including lung cancer. TM53 is a gene that can suppress the growth of tumors if functioning properly. It does this by growing a protein that causes cell division, but without the growth of the protein, it can do the opposite and cause cell death. The mutation of TM53 is an inherited disorder causing Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS). Having LFS increases your chances of getting cancer in your lifetime by 90 percent. However, this syndrome is rare, and lung cancer can affect other groups more often.

If you have been diagnosed with LFS and expose yourself to volatile organic compounds often, your chances of contracting lung cancer are high. When the cells begin to deteriorate from the mutated TM53 gene, the dysfunctional cells continue to grow and can begin to grow tumors. If cancer then forms, treatment is difficult because the mutated gene is resistant to typical chemotherapy methods.

How is Lung Cancer Currently Diagnosed?

Three of the most common ways in which lung cancer is currently diagnosed include imaging tests, tissue samples (biopsy), or analysis of sputum (sputum cytology). If you are suspicious of your symptoms and feel they may mirror those signs of lung cancer, consider scheduling one of these screenings. Imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT (computed tomography) scans, can give doctors a look at the lungs and look for the presence of a mass or lesions. During a biopsy, a doctor can perform a range of procedures to grab a tissue sample from your lungs to test for the presence of cancer.

If you are experiencing a persistent cough and producing sputum, then sputum cytology would be a good route to explore. Sputum is a thick substance of bacteria and fungi that grow in the lungs and can be tested for cancer, bronchitis, and other lung diseases. Most lung cancers are diagnosed in the late stages when symptoms are present. Early screenings for lung cancer are the best way to treat it before it spreads throughout the body. With new diagnostic tests coming into use, like the VOCs breath test, it may be more common to catch lung cancer early and treat it with success.

The Future of Diagnosing Lung Cancer

The discovery of using a breath test and looking for specific volatile organic compounds in their presence is a step towards more inventive diagnostic technology. A breath test may be the easiest and least invasive form of diagnosing lung cancer that is available. Other new diagnostic tests for forms of lung cancer are also coming around. Researchers at Peking University People’s Hospital in China have developed a blood test to screen for early-stage lung cancer by searching for levels of lipid biomarkers in plasma samples. The test has a high accuracy rating, opposing the current low accuracy early lung cancer screening techniques.

The speed at which new technology is coming around is getting faster every year, and that brings a promising atmosphere for people looking for new diagnostic tests and treatments for lung cancer. For more information about lung cancer and the options for diagnosis, treatment, and more, fill out this form to receive your completely free lung cancer guide.