From the blog

Screening for Mesothelioma: Detecting Mesothelioma Before Symptoms

Published: December 26, 2017

Diagnosing mesothelioma in the early stages has proven to be difficult. Biomarkers and diagnostic procedures are the most common way of determining this cancer’s existence, but if mesothelioma could be identified through cancer screenings, the chances of survival could increase. Cancer screenings intend to identify cancer before symptoms appear, and in cancers like breast, cervical, and lung cancer, certain well-regarded cancer screenings exist. Unfortunately for mesothelioma, there is no type of cancer screening in existence. However, a recent finding out of Belgium hopes to change all of this after results from a study indicated that a breath analysis test could detect mesothelioma before symptoms appear.

The purpose of this study was to identify volatile organic compounds (VOC) using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), and analyzing those findings with eNose technologies.  GC-MS is a combination technique that first separates and analyzes gases or compounds that can be vaporized and then is measured and sorted based upon the mass within any given sample. An electronic nose, or eNose, reproduces a human’s ability to recognize odors and flavors. These sensor arrays react to VOCs on contact, and can be seen by the physical change on the senor. Those responses are then recorded and given a digital value.

In this study, 64 patients gave breath and background samples to be evaluated. Nineteen of those 64 were individuals who were exposed to asbestos, but have no symptoms of any illness. Fifteen patients had benign asbestos-related diseases, and 14 individuals had malignant pleural mesothelioma. The remaining 16 was the healthy control group.

Using GC-MS and identifying the VOCs, results were favorable and those exposed to asbestos, but had no current symptoms and those suffering from mesothelioma were able to be distinguished from one another with 97 percent accuracy. Using GC-MS and eNose technologies, mesothelioma patients were also able to be distinguished from those who were exposed to asbestos but showed no signs of illness, and the 15 who had benign asbestos -related diseases with an accuracy of 94 percent and 74 percent. To conclude, the GC-MS technique identified pleural mesothelioma 100 percent of the time and was able to rule out those who did not have mesothelioma with 91 percent accuracy. ENose evaluation was slightly less accurate.

While results from this study were generally positive, scientists and researchers have noted that being able to tell one cancer apart from another cancer is more difficult than determining the presence vs. non-presence of an illness. This study provides hope and perhaps some comfort in those who are concerned that their asbestos exposure could eventually cause a fatal illness like mesothelioma. Being able to determine the presence of volatile compounds is a huge step forward in having a screening process for a cancer that has a grim prognosis from the time of diagnosis.



Lamote, K. “Breath analysis by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and electronic nose to screen for pleural mesothelioma: a cross-sectional case-control study,” Oncotarget  (September 2017). [Link]

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