European Respiratory Society

A breath test for malignant mesothelioma using an electronic nose

Eleanor A. Chapman, Paul S. Thomas, Emily Stone, Craig Lewis, Deborah H. Yates


Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is a rare tumour which is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Earlier detection of MM could potentially improve survival. Exhaled breath sampling of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using a carbon polymer array (CPA) electronic nose recognises specific breath profiles characteristic of different diseases, and can distinguish between patients with lung cancer and controls. With MM, the potential confounding effect of other asbestos-related diseases (ARDs) needs to be considered. We hypothesised that as CPA electronic nose would distinguish patients with MM, patients with benign ARDs, and controls with high sensitivity and specificity.

20 MM, 18 ARD and 42 control subjects participated in a cross-sectional, case–control study. Breath samples were analysed using the Cyranose 320 (Smiths Detection, Pasadena, CA, USA), using canonical discriminant analysis and principal component reduction.

10 MM subjects created the training set. Smell prints from 10 new MM patients were distinguished from control subjects with an accuracy of 95%. Patients with MM, ARDs and control subjects were correctly identified in 88% of cases.

Exhaled breath VOC profiling can accurately distinguish between patients with MM, ARDs and controls using a CPA electronic nose. This could eventually translate into a screening tool for high-risk populations.


  • Support Statement

    This work was funded by the Slater & Gordon Asbestos Research Trust and the Lesley Pockley Clinical Research Trust.

  • Statement of Interest

    None declared.

  • Received March 7, 2011.
  • Accepted November 23, 2001.
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