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Experimental breath test detects cancer

April 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Every year, millions of women in this country have mammograms to screen out breast cancer. The tests can be uncomfortable -- even painful. But for women over 40 mammograms provide the early detection that can be crucial. Now there is a new type of test in research that could one day be a "breath test" for cancer. Carol Witcher says her dog, Floyd Henry, knew something was wrong even before she did.

"He looked at me strangely. He pushed and snorted my right breast, and pushed and snorted," said Witcher. "I started to think something wasn't right."

Turns out, Floyd Henry was on the right track. Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer. A breath test confirmed the diagnosis.

The experimental test measures organic compounds breathed out from the lungs, and identifies those associated with breast cancer.

"The big difference is now you go in, you get your breast crushed, and they do a radiological test," said researcher Dr. Charlene Bayer."What this does is you just breathe into it and we measure just from the breath."

In a pilot study, this test was 77-percent accurate in distinguishing cancer from non-cancer -- for mammograms it's 80-percent. For women, this could one day mean a painless, instant screening test.

"This is very exciting to potentially put in the primary care physician's office so a patient could be told right away, 'Yes, it looks like something is there. Go get your mammogram earlier,'" said surgical oncologist Dr. Sheryl Gabram-Mendola.

Thanks to early detection and treatment, Carol Witcher's cancer is behind her.