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National Jewish Health Developing Breath Test For Lung Cancer

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A woman taking the breath test (credit: CBS)

A woman taking the breath test (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer, and it’s often discovered too late to cure. But researchers at National Jewish Health in Denver may have found a new way to spot it earlier than ever.

A new study at National Jewish Health uses breath to detect the disease.

Years ago Tess detected breast cancer. Her big furry Newfoundland sniffed her owner’s chest enough to make her get a mammogram and she was diagnosed.

“We know that they can smell more than what you or I can smell,” Dr. James Jett with National Jewish Health said.

Now man is experimenting with a machine. Call it a mechanical dog.

“There’s no pins and needles associated with it; no blood draw, it’s painless,” Jett said.

Researchers at the hospital demonstrated the device to 4 On Your Side Health Specialist Kathy Walsh. It looks like a computer with a hose attached. 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,” Jett said.

About 80 percent of lung cancer patients are now diagnosed in advanced stages.

“If we can detect more people with earlier stage cancer we’re going to have a better chance of curing more individuals,” Jett said.

The breath test is easy and will be inexpensive, but the study will take a number of years.

Researchers say, like a dog, the new sensor still needs to be trained to make sure it’s got a nose for accurate diagnosis.

Researchers need study participants. They are looking for people recently diagnosed with lung cancer but not yet treated. They are also looking for people at high risk — those over 40 who have smoked for at least 10 years. Call (303) 398-1911 for more information.

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