Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Lung-Cancer Breathalyzer

A cheap disposable device advances.

There was a time when doctors would sniff the breath of patients, looking for a yeasty note characteristic of tuberculosis or a sweet smell indicative of diabetes. Now researchers at the Cleveland Clinic could update olfactory diagnostics with a prototype breath detector for lung cancer.

Dye spots on a sheet of paper form distinctive color patterns when exposed to the breath of lung-cancer patients.

Scientists have long known that cancer cells make distinctive metabolic products, called volatile organic compounds, that are exhaled. The differences between these compounds and ones exhaled by a healthy person can be detected using a combination of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. But Peter Mazzone, a pulmo­nologist at the Cleveland Clinic, is working on a cheaper approach: a disposable piece of paper with 36 chemically sensitive dye spots. When exposed to a patient’s breath, the spots change color; a computer then scans them for a telltale color signature. After tests involving 143 people, some with cancer and some without, the researchers found a color signature characteristic of three out of four actual lung-­cancer patients. To hone the system’s accuracy, they are now trying to identify the compounds exhaled by lung patients. With lung cancer killing 160,000 people each year in the U.S., technologies better than CT scans and dangerous needle biopsies are desperately needed.

Get stories like this before anyone else with First Look.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.