A breath test used to identify “lung cancer” signature is now being used to monitor disease recurrence.

A single breath may be all it takes to identify the return of lung cancer after surgery, according to a study posted online by The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

Exhaled breath contains thousands of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that vary in composition and pattern depending on a person’s health status. A subset of four VOCs — called carbonyl compounds because of their carbon base — have been discovered in the exhaled breath of lung cancer patients. Being able to identify this lung cancer “signature” through a simple breath test has emerged as one of the most promising ways to diagnose the disease. Now the test is being used to monitor for disease recurrence.

Erin M. Schumer, MD, MPH, Victor van Berkel, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Louisville analyzed breath samples collected before and after surgery from 31 lung cancer patients and compared their carbonyl VOCs levels with samples from 187 healthy patients.

The researchers found a significant decrease in overall carbonyl VOC levels following surgery; in fact, three of the four carbonyl VOCs normalized after surgery, matching levels in the control group.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the University of Louisville

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