By Ted Gansler, MD, MBA, MPH
Can breath tests (like those used to check whether drivers have been drinking alcohol) be used for lung cancer screening? Or, is this (pardon the pun) just a lot of "hot air?" Although breath tests for lung cancer are "not ready for prime time," there has been some encouraging research.
There are 3 main ways to fight cancer - prevention, screening, and treatment. Although lung cancer remains the leading cause of death from cancer worldwide and in the United States, researchers are making progress against this disease on all 3 fronts.
Over nearly a half century, researchers tried several tests for lung cancer screening, none of which were accurate enough for widespread use. Because of research results released in 2010, the American Cancer Society and several other organizations now recommend that people at high risk for lung cancer (certain groups of current and former smokers) ask their doctor about CT scans for lung cancer screening.
On average, people in these high risk groups who have this test every year according to the ACS guidelines can reduce their risk of dying from lung cancer by about 20%. This can save a lot of lives and prevent a lot of suffering, so if you are a current or former smoker, you should read more about our lung cancer screening recommendations.
Research into easier lung cancer screening
One challenge with CT scans is that they find some lung nodules that are neither clearly cancer nor clearly benign (not cancer). This question is usually figured out by follow-up scans, but sometimes biopsies are needed. These biopsies can pose significant risks, which is one reason screening isn't recommended for people whose risk of lung cancer isn't as high as that of heavy smokers. So researchers are looking for ways to make screening easier and more accurate, faster and more affordable. More...