A Breakthrough in Cancer Detection? — Chromatography Investigates
May 21 2018
Cancer is one of the biggest causes of a premature death in the UK. There are over 350,000 new cases of cancer each year in the UK, with over half of those attributed to prostate, lung and breast cancer. Unfortunately, Cancer Research UK estimates that there are over 160,000 cancer deaths each year in the UK — around 450 each day.
Cancer Research UK data on breast cancer, says that it causes over 11,000 deaths each year and is the 4th most common cause of cancer death in the UK. But since the 1970s, the mortality rates for breast cancer have fallen by almost a third — and the mortality rates are predicted to fall even further in the future. Behind the statistics are scientists working to improve early cancer detection — one of the main drivers in increased cancer survival rates.
Detecting danger signs
Increased chances of cancer survival are closely linked to the detection of the cancer at an early stage — and breast cancer is no different. Statistics suggest that 90% of women diagnosed at the earliest stage of cancer survive for 5 years or more — compared to just 15% of women diagnosed at a late stage of cancer.
In the UK, breast screening is used as the first check as a diagnosis of breast cancer. This could be after a patient finds unusual lumps in their breast or because of a routine screening test. Then further tests including mammogram or ultrasound scans may be needed. This is usually followed by a biopsy which will take a sample from the cells in the lump to determine whether they are cancerous or not.
Non-invasive breath and urine tests
Scientists are continually developing methods to detect cancer earlier — thus improving a patient’s prognosis. A recent paper in the journal Computers in Biology and Medicine — Early non-invasive detection of breast cancer using exhaled breath and urine analysis — offers hope that a non-invasive early detection test is possible.
The team used commercially available electronic noses and gas chromatography mass spectrometry to detect biomarkers associated with early stage breast cancer. Gas chromatography is a powerful tool for separating and analysing samples as described in the article, Gas Chromatography: A Powerful Tool for Cannabinoid Analysis.
Using chromatography, the team analysed breathe and urine samples for breast cancer biomarkers. In patients with breast cancer, they were able to identify with 95% accuracy using breathe analysis. And when combined with urine analysis, they were able to identify with 85% accuracy those with breast cancer when the samples included both cancer patients and a healthy control group.
The work gives hope that a relatively simple and inexpensive, non-invasive technique to detect early stage cancer is possible — not just breast cancers, but all cancers.
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