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How researchers can detect cancer risk in breath

February 25, 2019

Found in General,  Innovation

While lung cancer continues to be among the deadliest diseases today, we know this will change as we find new and more effective ways to detect it earlier.

Indeed, we estimate that approximately 80 per cent of those with lung cancer may survive if caught at an earlier stage.

As we look toward the future, there are many projects in the works that will help achieve this aim.

Using the breath to detect cancer risk

With generous support from the BC Cancer Foundation and its donors, we hope to establish what we call a Breathomics laboratory that will detect cancer risk in the breath.

The body produces a wide range of compounds that reflect cellular activity. These compounds are altered by disease, making them potential biomarkers, or signals of cancer.

These compounds can be detected in a person’s breath, urine or sweat. By analyzing them in breath samples, we can predict how the body may break down chemicals that we breathe into our lungs or eat in our food.

From this, we can better understand how and why someone would be at risk for developing lung cancer, and alter their activities to prevent it from developing or spreading later on.

Expanding lung cancer screening across BC and beyond 

We are also well in the process of completing an international lung screening trial. This includes one site in Vancouver, with four additional sites in Australia, one in Hong Kong and a couple more in the United Kingdom.

The focus of this trial was to understand the best ways we can identify people with lung cancer using a highly precise computer diagnostic system.

This technology allows us to read scans in a much deeper and more accurate way, providing better insight into who has or will develop the disease.

Results from this trial will allow us to determine how we can implement this form of testing into standard care for people at risk.

The future of lung cancer research and care 

Technology is developing much more rapidly than ever before. Because of this, I remain hopeful we will be able to significantly improve the lives of those affected by this disease.

I believe our major goal should be to implement lung cancer screening into standard of care for everyone at risk.

If we can detect the disease early enough and treat it with intent to cure, the result will be much better. We can shift a significant proportion of people with advanced cancer to earlier stages, instead of using expensive and often ineffective treatments.

With continued support from generous BC Cancer Foundation donors, I believe we can make this goal a reality.

Thank you for tuning into my blog this month.

Dr. Stephen Lam