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Is a Breath Test for Colon Cancer Possible?
Date:12/5/2012

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5 (HealthDay News) -- If colon cancer screening was as easy as taking a breath, more people might do it. Now, a small pilot study suggests such a test could be developed.

The study, of 78 people with and without colon cancer, found that those with the disease tended to have a distinct pattern of chemicals in their breath. And when researchers analyzed the study participants' breath samples, they correctly identified the colon cancer patients 76 percent of the time.

The findings, reported online Dec. 5 in the British Journal of Surgery, sound good. But if you're waiting for your doctor to offer such a test, don't hold your breath.

"It's an interesting concept, but this is in the very early stages," said Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancers for the American Cancer Society.

"There's no way to tell if this would work in the general population," said Brooks, who was not involved in the research.

What's more, he added, there are already several good ways to catch colon cancer -- or, even better, precancerous growths called polyps, which can then be removed before a tumor develops. Yet about 40 percent of Americans who should be getting screened are not.

"Colon cancer is a highly preventable disease," Brooks said. "And I would encourage the four out of 10 people who are not taking advantage of the existing screening tools to talk with their doctor."

The idea of using a breath test to catch cancer is not new: Researchers are looking into breath tests for detecting a number of cancers, including lung and breast tumors. It's all based on studies showing that breath samples from cancer patients tend to have a distinguishing pattern of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

When it comes to colon cancer, people already have several options for screening, which for most adults should begin at age 50 -- or pos
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