Cancers of the stomach could soon be detected using a simple breath test, researchers have said, potentially saving lives by picking up the condition early.
A new trial of the tests, which measure the level of compounds in the breath that can point to cancer risk, have proved them to be accurate and cost-effective.
Stomach cancer is a relatively rare condition, affecting around 7,300 people in the UK every year. However, the outlook for patients is often poor, because the condition is so rarely diagnosed early enough for successful treatment.
Early symptoms, such as indigestion and burping, are the same as for many other minor conditions, so the cancer is often missed until it is too late. The only existing test is an endoscopy, where a tube is inserted into the stomach down the throat.
As well as accurately detecting cancer, the new test, which uses a technology called nanoarray analysis, could also identify which patients were at greatest risk of developing the condition, the researchers from Israel and Latvia, said.
According to their findings, published in the medical journal Gut, it was 92 per cent accurate at picking up the specific “breath-print” of patients with cancer. Patients whose stomach cells had undergone changes that can lead to cancer could also be identified with almost the same level of accuracy.
The researchers, from the Israel Institute of Technology and the University of Latvia, said the technology had “potential” for stomach cancer screening programmes, and for monitoring of people thought to be at high risk.
The study, based on a sample of 484 people, 99 of whom had previously diagnosed stomach cancer, is one of the biggest yet to confirm the potential of breath test diagnosis. If the results are borne out in an ongoing trial involving thousands of patients across Europe, the tests could be made clinically available within the next few years.
Similar breath tests for lung cancer are also undergoing trials in the UK.