January 10, 2013
Breath Compounds Can Signal Colon Cancer

Some day our bedrooms will have sensors embedded in them that monitor the gases that we breath out as we sleep. Our home medical diagnostic systems will wake us up to warn of early stage infections, signs of cancer, and other health problems. Volatile organic compounds in breath have telltale patterns when someone has colon cancer.

Led by Donato F. Altomare, MD, of the Department of Emergency and Organ Transplantation at the University Aldo Moro of Bari, researchers collected exhaled breath from 37 patients with colorectal cancer and 41 healthy controls which was processed offline to evaluate the VOC profile. VOCs of interest had been identified and selected, and VOC patterns able to discriminate patients from controls set up.

A probabilistic neural network (PNN) was used to identify the pattern of VOCs that better discriminated between the two groups.

Results showed that patients with colorectal cancer have a different selective VOC pattern compared with healthy controls, based on analysis of 15 of 58 specific compounds in exhaled breath samples.

The PNN in this study was able to discriminate patients with colorectal cancer with an accuracy of over 75%, with the model correctly assigning 19 patients.

Note that they were comparing against healthy controls but likely not longitudinally (through time). Home monitoring systems will be able to do better than this because they'll have baselines from when they first started measuring your breath. Plus, sensors built into toilets will provide additional signals about health problems at very early stages.

Given sufficiently advanced sensors built into beds, toilets, sinks and even around mirrors (to measure coloration changes in eyes and skin) diagnosis in a doctor's office will become the exception. Most diagnosis will happen while you are at home. Then why not have a prescription order made while you sleep with delivery to your door as you wake up?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 January 10 11:01 PM 

Engineer-Poet said at January 11, 2013 5:41 AM:

If the VOCs come from the cancer cells and not from changed metabolism in other cells, the processes which produce them could be a target for therapies.

bbartlog said at January 13, 2013 9:09 AM:

75% isn't ready for prime time. I wonder whether dogs could do better.

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