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Virginia Mason Experts Will Assess Breath Test to Detect Esophageal Cancer

Research is beginning at Virginia Mason Medical Center that will assess the accuracy of a breath test for detecting esophageal cancer, one of the fastest growing and deadliest cancers in the United States.

The project, supported by a grant from the Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation, is led by Donald Low, MD, who specializes in esophageal and thoracic surgery at Virginia Mason, and George Hanna, PhD, of St. Mary's Hospital in London (Imperial College Healthcare), who is the co-investigator.

At Virginia Mason, the project will involve as many as 50 patients over the next 12 to 18 months. The research will attempt to build on findings from recent research into a potential breath test for esophageal cancer conducted in England.

"There are currently no standard screenings for the early detection of esophageal cancer, and symptoms often present only after the illness is advanced and difficult to treat," Dr. Low said. "We hope to change this. Research in London demonstrated the potential for breath analysis to provide an indication when early esophageal cancer has occurred. The purpose of our study is to assess the diagnostic accuracy of a breath test."

Virginia Mason researchers will examine the reliability of such a test "longitudinally," Dr. Low added, explaining that patients enrolled in the study will provide sputum and urine samples, in addition to exhaled breaths, that will be evaluated for common markers at three separate points in their treatment journey. The ultimate goal is to develop a noninvasive test for the detection of esophageal cancer that is based on the unique signature of volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath.

In 2019, an estimated 16,000 people will die from esophageal cancer in the United States, while less than 20 percent of those diagnosed with the disease will survive more than five years, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"One of the reasons for conducting research is that you never know what you will discover," said Dr. Low. "It's exciting to imagine a day, not far in the future, when a person will breathe into a special device that can provide reliable information, based on the breath, indicating whether the individual has early-stage esophageal cancer. This would be a marvelous advancement for medicine and patients. My colleagues and I are proud to be involved in the assessment of this new diagnostic approach."

Virginia Mason is a leading provider of esophageal cancer treatment, serving patients from across the United States.

More information:
Sheraz R. Markar et al. Assessment of a Noninvasive Exhaled Breath Test for the Diagnosis of Oesophagogastric Cancer, JAMA Oncology (2018). DOI: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.0991

Provided by Virginia Mason Medical Center