Patient prognosis in lung cancer largely depends on early diagnosis. The exhaled breath of patients may represent the ideal specimen for future lung cancer screening. However, the clinical applicability of current diagnostic sensor technologies based on signal pattern analysis remains incalculable due to their inability to identify a clear target. To test the robustness of the presence of a so far unknown volatile organic compound in the breath of patients with lung cancer, sniffer dogs were applied.
Exhalation samples of 220 volunteers (healthy individuals, confirmed lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)) were presented to sniffer dogs following a rigid scientific protocol. Patient history, drug administration and clinicopathological data were analysed to identify potential bias or confounders.
Lung cancer was identified with an overall sensitivity of 71% and a specificity of 93%. Lung cancer detection was independent from COPD and the presence of tobacco smoke and food odours. Logistic regression identified two drugs as potential confounders.
It must be assumed that a robust and specific volatile organic compound (or pattern) is present in the breath of patients with lung cancer. Additional research efforts are required to overcome the current technical limitations of electronic sensor technologies to engineer a clinically applicable screening tool.
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The study was funded by private financial resources of R. Ehmann, E. Boedeker and T. Walles.
Statement of Interest
Statements of interest for R. Ehmann, E. Boedeker, U. Friedrich, T. Walles and the study itself can be found at www.erj.ersjournals.com/site/misc/statements.xhtml
- Received March 23, 2011.
- Accepted July 5, 2011.
- ©ERS 2012