Study tests if cancer can be detected by breath

Project stemmed from research showing that dogs can smell the disease


ORLANDO, Fla. – Janet Wolek may have never known she had lung cancer without a Scottish terrier named Lizzie.

"I was babysitting my daughter's dog and it kept jumping on my back and jumping on my back and jumping on my back," said Wolek.

After a few days of the dog's antics she went to the doctor, where they found a tumor that turned out to be stage four lung cancer.

"They don't know what they're smelling but they know the smell of lung cancer," said Dr. Tarek Mekhail, a thoracic oncologist at Florida hospital.

Mekhail has partnered with other doctors around the nation to develop a device that can do what a dog does: smell cancer.

Research is underway at National Jewish Health in Denver where they are testing a device that is supposed to detect lung cancer through the breath. It looks like a computer with a hose attached where a person breathes in and out of the hose for about five minutes. The breath is pulled across 128 sensors that can detect different chemicals.

"The goal is to see if we can come up with a certain pattern of chemicals in your breath that says you're at a high likelihood of having cancer or that says you do have cancer," said Dr. James Jett with National Jewish Health.

Eighty percent of lung cancer patients are now diagnosed in advanced stages and Dr. Jett said early detection could give them a better chance of curing more people. He said the breath test is easy and will be inexpensive, but the study will take a number of years to complete.

A Florida Hospital spokesperson said the research going on in Colorado is a very small scale study and Dr. Mekheil has applied for a grant to do larger study in Central Florida. The hospital said that study is expected to begin soon.