A new device has been developed that can diagnose lung cancer at an earlier stage, increasing the likelihood of treatment being effective. The importance of this was highlighted in 2016, when the University Hospital of South Manchester Trust offered smokers and ex-smokers aged 55-74 across 14 participating GP practices a ‘Lung Health Check’. Patients received a breathing test, alongside a discussion with a lung specialist nurse about potential symptoms of cancer they were experiencing and a calculation of their individual lung cancer risk. Patients determined to be high risk were invited to have an immediate low-dose CT scan.

Over 2,500 people were checked, with 46 incidences of lung cancer discovered. Around half of all lung cancer diagnoses are made at stage 4 of the disease, which is usually incurable. However in this study almost 90% of patients were diagnosed at a stage early enough to be offered curative treatment.

These findings highlight the importance of an early diagnosis but also the potential effectiveness of breath tests to diagnose disease. In light of this, a new technology has been developed by Owlstone Medical, which measures volatile organic compounds (VOCs) through a breath biopsy to find different types of cancer.

Previous breath tests have tended to focus primarily on respiratory illnesses, VOC biomarkers are produced as the end products of metabolic processes all over the body, and so the device aims to be able to use these to detect different types of conditions.