Breath Test for Breast Cancer

Posted by Rachel Leigh - email

ATLANTA (WFLX) - Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women; it claims more than 40,000 lives each year. Early detection is key in preventing the disease, but many women don't like mammograms because they can be frightening, uncomfortable and even painful at times.

Now, a new type of test can actually detect breast cancer through your breath.

Carol Witcher says her dog, Floyd Henry, knew something was wrong even before she did. "He looked at me strangely and pushed and snorted my right breast, and I'm thinking, 'Something's not right,'" she said.

Turns out, Floyd Henry was on the right track. Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The experimental test measures organic compounds breathed out from the lungs and identifies those associated with breast cancer.

Principal Research Scientist Dr. Charlene Bayer, with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, explained, "The big difference is, now, you go in you get your breast crushed. What this does, you just breathe into it, and we measure just from the breath."

In a pilot study, this test was 77 percent accurate in distinguishing cancer from non-cancer.

For mammogram, it's 80 percent, and, for women, this could one day mean a painless, instant screening test.

Surgical Oncologist Dr. Sheryl Gabram-Mendola, with the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, said, "[It's] very exciting to potentially put, in the primary care physician's office, as a direct read system where a patient could be told right away, 'Yes, it looks like something's there.'"

And thanks to early detection and treatment, Carol's cancer is behind her, and Floyd Henry has plenty to sing about.

Though, researchers say, the breath test probably won't ever replace the mammogram, it could be invaluable to allow earlier intervention, regular testing for high-risk women and offer breast cancer screening for women in third world countries.