Breath Test May Lead To Screening for Pleural Mesothelioma

A new Belgian study shows that two kinds of breath-analysing tests may lead to an accurate way to screen for pleural mesothelioma[i].  An accurate screening tool could lead to earlier diagnosis, earlier treatment, and potentially better outcomes such as life expectancy.  Currently, many mesotheliomas are in the more advanced stages when they are diagnosed, and life expectancy is significantly reduced.

The study was conducted by several Belgian Universities and the University of Amsterdam.  Two techniques, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GS-MS) and eNose technologies, were investigated.  Breath samples were taken from 16 healthy people, 19 people who had been exposed to asbestos but were not ill, 15 people with asbestos-related diseases other than mesothelioma, and 14 mesothelioma patients.  The two methods, especially when used together, were highly effective at identifying the possible presence of mesothelioma and at distinguishing mesothelioma patients from other people who had been exposed to asbestos.  GC-MS accurately identified pleural mesothelioma patients 100 % of the time, and ruled out people who did not have mesothelioma 91 % of the time, and eNose accurately identified pleural mesothelioma 82 % of the time and ruled out people who did not have mesothelioma 55 % of the time.

Breath analysis is simple, non-invasive, fast and inexpensive, but it may not be perfect[ii].  At this stage, it may not easily tell one type of cancer from another, as different cancers may lead to different molecules being produced and exhaled.

In the future, if those who have been exposed to asbestos earlier in life could be screened many years later, when their risk of developing mesothelioma is higher, many cases of mesothelioma could be diagnosed earlier.  This could result in more treatment options being available to patients, treatments being more successful, and lesser reductions in life expectancy.


[i] Lamote, K. et al. Breath analysis by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and electronic nose to screen for pleural mesothelioma: a cross-sectional case-control study. Oncotarget 8, 91593–91602 (2017). (Accessed 14th December 2017)

[ii] Breath test may finally offer a way to screen for pleural mesothelioma.  12 December 2017 (Accessed 14 December 2017)