Exhaled Breath Analysis: Is it the Future of Mesothelioma Diagnosis?

exhaled breath analysis

A new report says there is much for the mesothelioma community to be excited about in the technology known as exhaled breath analysis. 

Several studies suggest the method is as accurate at identifying mesothelioma as some more invasive tests. 

Researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium led the new study. They analyzed six other studies on exhaled breath analysis

The goal was to see how accurate the method is for diagnosing mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases. The researchers conclude that things look good for exhaled breath analysis, but there is more to learn. 

Searching for Signs of Mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive lung-related cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. It can take decades to develop, but once it does, it typically progresses quickly. One reason mesothelioma is so deadly is that most people have few signs of the disease until it is very advanced. 

This is where scientists hope exhaled breath analysis might help. Right now, the only definite way to diagnose mesothelioma is to look at tumor cells under a microscope. Biomarkers found in blood or lung fluid can help confirm the diagnosis. 

Exhaled breath analysis might make it possible to identify mesothelioma faster and earlier. The test itself is quick and easy to administer. And patients might be more likely to get it since there are no needles or scalpels involved.  

Compounds in Exhaled Breath are Key

Cancer causes biochemical changes in the body. These biochemical changes produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that a person exhales. 

Different types of cancer produce different combinations of VOCs. Exhaled breath analysis measures these VOCs to see what type of cancer produced them.

The authors of the new meta-analysis searched the medical literature for studies on breath testing for mesothelioma. They found six that met their criteria. The sample sizes in the studies ranged from 39 to 330 people. 

“Some compounds…that can be indicative of malignant pleural mesothelioma development in asbestos exposed population were identified with high diagnostic accuracy rates,” writes lead author Zehra Nur Töreyin.

Some of the studies used e-nose technology which relies on a mesothelioma “breathprint”. This is a combination of VOCs unique to mesothelioma patients. Studies found the e-nose could tell the difference between mesothelioma patients and asbestos exposed people who were not sick. 

The Future of Exhaled Breath Analysis

Exhaled breath analysis does look promising for mesothelioma diagnosis. But it may be some time before scientists will know for sure. 

The research team says the existing studies are too small to apply the results in clinical practice. Also, these studies were all conducted in different ways. This makes it harder to say for sure how well the technology works. 

“More prospective studies with standardized methodologies should be conducted on larger populations,” the researchers conclude. 


Töreyin ZN, et al, “Exhaled Breath Analysis in Diagnosis of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: Systematic Review”, February 10, 2020, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031110

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