A clinical trial has been launched to see if a breath test could detect the presence of cancer.
Researchers want to find out if signals of different cancer types can be picked up in patterns of breath molecules.
The Cancer Research UK team in Cambridge will collect breath samples from 1,500 people, some with cancer.
If the technology is proven, the hope is that breath tests could be used in GP practices to decide if patients need to be referred for more tests.
They could potentially be used alongside blood and urine tests to help doctors detect cancer at an early stage, the researchers said.
But it will be two years before the results of the exploratory trial are known.
GPs' leaders said the research was exciting but they warned patients that breath tests to detect cancer were "unlikely to be commonplace at their GP practice anytime soon".
How does the test work?
Molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released when cells in the body carry out biochemical reactions as part of their behaviour.
But if cancer or other conditions are present, the normal behaviour of cells is altered and they appear to produce a different pattern of molecules – and a different signature smell.
The research team is trying to find out if this pattern or odour can be identified in people's breath, using breath biopsy technology.
Their ultimate aim is to work out if different types of cancer produce different patterns – or signatures – which can be detected at an early stage.
What's the potential for the test?
This is the start of the trial so we won't know for several years whether or not the initial results are promising.
The science behind the test itself is not new.
Many researchers around the world have been working on the possibility of breath tests for a number of cancers, including lung, for a number of years.
There are some promising signs that breath tests could detect pre-cancerous symptoms, but it is not yet clear how accurate they are.
Any breath test used on large numbers of patients would have to be sensitive and accurate to avoid misdiagnoses and false positives.
In short, there is a long way to go and much more research needed on more people before a breath test will be appearing in any GP surgeries.
It is possible that dogs could be also used to sniff out the odours given off by cancers, and other diseases like Parkinson's.
Who will take part in the trial?
The trial will start with patients with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers and then widened to include people with prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers in the coming months.
Healthy people will also be included in the trial.
At Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, participants will be asked to breathe into a face mask for 10 minutes so a sample can be collected.
The samples will then be sent to a laboratory in Cambridge to be analysed.
'Best chance of surviving'
Rebecca Coldrick, 54, was one of the first people to take part in the trial. She has a condition called Barrett's oesophagus and could go on to develop cancer.
"I was very happy to take part in the trial and I want to help with research however I can," she said.
"I think the more research done to monitor conditions like mine and the kinder the detection tests developed, the better."
Prof Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead trial investigator at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, said: "We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease."
Dr David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK, said breath tests were a technology that had the potential "to revolutionise the way we detect and diagnose cancer in the future".
Cancer Research UK has made research into this area one of its top priorities.
NHS ‘should not prescribe acne drug’
The parents of young people who have killed themselves and patients unable to have sex are calling f..
The parents of young people who have killed themselves and patients unable to have sex are calling for the NHS to stop prescribing acne drug Roaccutane.
Ed Henthorn said it had caused him erectile dysfunction, psychosis and suicidal thoughts.
And one man who believes his son killed himself after taking the drug said the risks "are just too high".
Manufacturer Roche said "millions of patients worldwide have benefited from taking the drug".
The majority of those who take the drug have a positive experience.
"I used to think about girls… but my feelings, thoughts, just faded away," Ed Henthorn told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.
He was 19 when he took Roaccutane. He describes his acne as mild but bad enough to want to treat.
After three weeks he started to experience side-effects, including reduced energy and sex drive.
Then he experienced erectile dysfunction.
"That was why I decided to stop taking it," he said. (more…)
Spina bifida: Keyhole surgery repairs baby spine in womb
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In a UK first, doctors have used keyhole surgery to su..
In a UK first, doctors have used keyhole surgery to successfully repair the spine of a baby with spina bifida while it was still inside the womb.
Surgeons at King's College Hospital say the procedure is not a cure, but could be the difference between some children learning to walk or not.
Sherrie Sharp and her son Jaxson had the operation 27 weeks into the pregnancy.
Spina bifida was diagnosed after the routine 20-week pregnancy scans.
They showed Jaxson's spine and spinal cord were not forming correctly.
Gaps in the developing spine meant the cord was bulging out of his back and was left exposed to the amniotic fluid in the womb.
This damages the crucial nerves in the spinal cord and could lead to paralysis, a loss of sensation in the legs and problems controlling the bladder and bowels.
The longer the spinal cord is left exposed, the greater the damage.
Sherrie, 29, and from West Sussex, said the news was a shock, but an abortion was a "definite no". (more…)
Less chemotherapy better for older or frail patients with advanced stomach and oesophageal cancers
Less chemotherapy is as effective at controlling disease for elderly or frail patients with advanced..
Less chemotherapy is as effective at controlling disease for elderly or frail patients with advanced cancer of the stomach or oesophagus (food pipe), and leads to fewer side effects such as diarrhoea and lethargy. These are the results of a Cancer Research UK funded study, presented prior to the ASCO conference today (Wednesday).
“Increasingly were realising its not just age that affects how well someone can tolerate their treatment and we need to do more work to understand how other conditions or aspects of frailty might play a role.” – Dr Peter Hall, Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre[contfnewc]
Results from the GO2 trial could change the standard of care for patients who cant have full dose chemotherapy due to their age, frailty or medical fitness.
The study, which ran at hospitals all over the UK, coordinated from the University of Leeds, involved 514 people with stomach or oesophageal cancer. Their average age was 76 and the oldest was 96 years old. All were either frail, elderly or medically unfit, and for those reasons would be unlikely to tolerate full-strength treatment, which involves three chemotherapy drugs.
Patients went through a careful medical assessment, then went onto chemotherapy with just two drugs* and were allocated at random to receive them at either full-strength, medium-dose or low-dose. They were then carefully monitored to see how well the cancer was controlled, whether they had symptoms and side-effects, whether they felt their treatment was worthwhile, and what overall effect it had on their quality of life.
The researchers reported that the medium and lower doses of chemotherapy were as effective as the full-strength dose for controlling the cancer. But when the researchers looked at the overall effect of treatment, including quality of life, they reported that it was the lowest dose treatment that came out best.**
Around 15,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with stomach and oesophageal cancers every year***. Almost half (45%) of these people are 75 and over****. By 2035, this proportion is projected to rise to 55%*****, because of the UKs ageing population. This study, is one of few phase III trials in the country that seek to address how to best care for and treat this increasing population of elderly or frail cancer patients.
These findings also open up the possibility of more older and frail patients being able to take part in clinical trials.
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UKs chief clinician, said: “These valuable results reduce fears that giving a lower dose chemotherapy regimen is inferior and could make a huge difference for patients with stomach or oesophageal cancer who cant tolerate intensive courses of treatment.
“Older or frail patients are often not considered for new drug trials or standard of care therapy as theyre less able to tolerate combination chemotherapy. These trials are critical to provide much needed evidence on the effectiveness of new therapies and combination approaches, helping us develop new treatments for this growing group of patients.”
The researchers also assessed whether there were differences for the patients in the study who were under 75, or less frail, who might be expected to benefit from stronger treatment; but will be reporting that the lowest dose treatment gave the best results for them as well. (more…)
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