Designed to be administered by pharmacists, the test is claimed to have the potential to save many lives.
‘The intention is that we will catch patients before they start getting the symptoms. Once lung cancer patients start experiencing symptoms it is often very advanced and has a very low cure rate,’ said Dr Rachel Airley, the Huddersfield University academic who developed the breath test project.
It has received backing of £105,000 from Dr Philip Brown of the S.G. Court Group, a Chertsey-based pharmacy chain, where initial trials will be carried out. Match funding was provided by the university.
In a statement Dr Airley explained that a breath testing device called the RTube is already available, marketed as a research tool for respiratory diseases. Now, the Huddersfield University project, taking place over three years, will research the ‘biomarker signature’ of lung cancer, as detectable in the breath.
‘When you get certain chemicals in someone’s breath, that can be a sign that there is early malignancy,’ said Dr Airley. ’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 development of the lung cancer ‘breathalyser’ will be part of the trend towards pharmacists playing an increasing front-line role in health care.
‘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. A pharmacy is a lot less scary than a doctor’s surgery,’ Dr Airley said.
‘The idea is to pick up illnesses almost before they happen. Lung cancer is ideal for this because it is often not diagnosed until there are really serious symptoms.’
Smoking cessation clinics that are successfully being run by pharmacists will also be an opportunity to offer the simple, non-invasive breath test.
Once established, the lung cancer ‘breathalyser’ could be adapted for other hard-to-detect cancers, said Dr Airley.