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Breathing diagnosis: New test for the early detection of lung cancer
Lung cancer is still underestimated, according to health experts. Since it is assumed that around 85 percent of illnesses are related to tobacco use, it is repeatedly pointed out how important it is to quit smoking. Early detection of the disease is also of great importance. A new breath test could help here in the future.
Lung cancer is often discovered late
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Europe. This disease is also so dangerous because it is usually recognized late, because symptoms of lung cancer are often not noticed. Experts believe that around 85 percent of illnesses are related to tobacco use. Most lung cancer patients die five years after being diagnosed with the condition. A new early detection test could simplify the diagnostic process.
Detect disease at an early stage
“Take a deep breath - and exhale again” - this is what a test for lung cancer could look like in the future. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim have developed a method that can detect the disease at an early stage.
According to a statement from the institute, they examined breath samples for traces of RNA molecules that are altered by cancer growth.
In a study on healthy volunteers and cancer patients, the breath test was able to correctly determine the health status of 98 percent of the participants. It is now to be developed further so that it can be used for the diagnosis of lung cancer.
More precise than examinations in computed tomography
In the United States, high-risk groups, such as heavy smokers, are routinely examined using computed tomography. However, patients can be wrongly classified as sick.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research have now developed a breath test together with cooperation partners that is significantly more precise.
When examined, the test diagnosed with lung cancer was correct in nine out of ten cases. This means that the method has such a high hit rate that it could be used for early diagnosis in everyday clinical practice.
Differences between degenerate and healthy cells
In order to arrive at their results, the researchers analyzed RNA molecules that are released from the lung tissue into the breathing air and that differ between healthy volunteers and lung cancer patients.
In contrast to DNA, RNA is not the same in every cell. Several RNA variants, and thus different proteins, can be created from one DNA section. Such variants are present in a certain ratio in healthy cells.
The scientists found that the GATA6 and NKX2 genes form RNA variants that differ in their amount between degenerate and healthy cells. The cancer cells are like lung cells at the embryonic stage.
They reported on their results in the specialist magazine "EMBO Molecular Medicine".
Breathing air analysis could simplify the detection of lung cancer
The researchers have developed a method that they can use to isolate the RNA molecules. These occur not only in small quantities in the breath, but often also broken down into small parts.
They then examined the composition of the RNA in subjects with and without lung cancer and used this data to calculate a model for diagnosing the disease.
In a test on 138 subjects with a known health condition, the test identified 98 percent of lung cancer patients. 90 percent of the abnormalities discovered were actually cancer.
"Breathing air analysis could make the detection of lung cancer in early stages easier and more reliable, but it will not be able to completely replace conventional methods," said Guillermo Barreto, group leader at the Max Planck Institute in Bad Nauheim.
"However, it can be used in addition to better identify early stages of cancer and to reduce false-positive diagnoses." The breath test is now to be further developed. (ad)