Breath test can detect some cancers

Category: Health


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. clinical trial / ˈklɪn ɪ kəl ˈtraɪ əl / (n.) – a scientific test of the effectiveness and safety of a new drug or medical treatment

    All new medicine undergo clinical trials before it’s available for sale.

  2. multidisciplinary / ˌmʌl tiˈdɪs ə pləˌnɛr i / (adj.) – involving people who are experts in different types of knowledge or subjects

    A multidisciplinary healthcare team is treating the patient.

  3. multitude / ˈmʌl tɪˌtud / (n.) – a very large number of things or people

    She has a multitude of responsibilities at work, including overseeing projects and managing teams.

  4. differentiate / ˌdɪf əˈrɛn ʃiˌeɪt / (v.) – to show or find the difference between two or more things

    Students need to know how to differentiate between fact and opinion.

  5. progress / prəˈgrɛs / (v.) – to develop over a period of time

    We didn’t know that his disease progressed so quickly.


Read the text below.

In the U.K., a clinical trial of a breath test that can diagnose a variety of cancers including the gut, pancreas and esophagus at an early stage is underway.

Doctors developing the technology say previous trials have shown a 90 percent accuracy. Now, they want to see if it can catch the disease early when patients have better outcomes from treatment. The goal of doctors everywhere is to catch the disease in its earliest stages before it has had time to seriously harm a patient.

For several years, a multidisciplinary team of doctors and scientists at Imperial College London have been testing out a breathalyzer as a way of detecting some cancers. The test could make testing for gastrointestinal cancers much easier.

The researchers are demonstrating how it could easily be used in surgery, by a doctor or nurse. The secret is in the metal tube through which the patient’s breath is collected from the bag. A material coating the inside of the tube captures vapor and gases. Then the tube each given a unique barcode to identify the patient goes into a laboratory for analysis.

When the compounds are separated, the scientists can begin analyzing what volatile gases have been identified from the patient’s breath.

Professor George Hanna is head of Cancer and Surgery at Imperial College. He has supervised a number of trials with the breath test involving hundreds of patients.

According to Hanna, different tumors expel different gases so they can be identified on a person’s breath. This means that one breath test can identify a multitude of cancers. He says they have confidence that the test can accurately differentiate between different cancers.

The scientists say the breath tests have more than a 90% accuracy on confirmed cancer patients. But catching the cancer before a patient develops typical symptoms is what the doctors are aiming at. Once the symptoms have become established the cancer has already progressed past an early stage.

Hanna believes the team is developing a quicker, easier and cheaper way for patients to be diagnosed before the disease progresses beyond treatment. If successful, the breath test could save thousands of lives in Britain alone according to Pancreatic Cancer UK, the charity partly funding the research.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • In the U.K., a clinical trial of a breath test that can diagnose a variety of cancers is underway. Based on the information you learned in this article, what do you think is the importance of this breath test? Discuss.
  • According to the article, the doctors are aiming at catching cancer before a patient develops symptoms. Why do you think early cancer detection is valuable? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Pancreatic Cancer UK is the charity that’s partly funding the research on the breath test. In your opinion, how important is it for governments and healthcare institutions to support and fund research for innovative technologies? Discuss.
  • A multidisciplinary team of doctors and scientists at Imperial College London have been testing out the breath test. Why do you think the team is composed of doctors and scientists with different expertise? Discuss.