Pharmacies in the UK to test for lung cancer using special breathalyzer 

12/16/2013 - 00:00

With lung cancer survival rates greatly improved by early detection, we've seen a number of efforts to develop a better way to detect the disease in its early stages. So-called lung cancer breathalyzers are one technology being developed by a number of research teams, including one from the University of Huddersfield in the UK, which plans to trial a breathalyzer device in pharmacies.

The project to develop the device, which is taking place over three years, involves researching a lung cancer "biomarker signature" that is detectable in breath. Previous studies have already shown that carbon-based sensors embedded with gold nanoparticles and even dogs can detect chemicals in the breath indicating the presence of the disease in the lungs.

"When you get certain chemicals in someone’s breath, that can be a sign that there is early malignancy," says Dr Rachel Airley who developed the project. "We are looking to be able to distinguish between patients with early lung cancer and patients who have maybe got bronchitis, emphysema or non-malignant smoking related disease... or who have maybe just got a cough."

The project has secured £105,000 (US$170,000) in funding from the SG Court Pharmacy Group that operates a chain of pharmacies in the South East of England. It is in these pharmacies that initial trials of the technology will be carried out. The University of Huddersfield has provided matching funding for the project.

The researchers envision that people visiting their local pharmacy for smoking cessation medication or advice will be invited to take a quick test, with the goal of catching the disease before the patients start to experience symptoms. Once symptoms present, the disease is usually at an advanced stage and it is often too late for effective treatment.

"There are 12,000 community pharmacies in Britain and there is a big move for them to get involved in primary diagnostics, because people visit their pharmacies not just when they are ill but when they are well," says Dr Airley. "A pharmacy is a lot less scary than a doctor’s surgery."