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The Scent of Skin Cancer

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, August 21, 2008 1:19 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Skin Cancer, Cancer, Melanoma, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Cancer Drugs

Skin cancer gives off a scent that can be detected with nanotechnology.  



IMAGE SOURCE: WikiMedia Commons/ melanoma on skin/ author: U.S. govt.


Cancerous cells give off a scent and researchers are working to identify an “odor profile” to more easily detect skin cancers in a noninvasive way.

This research comes from Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and was presented Wednesday at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting there.  

Michelle Gallagher, who conducted the research, has found a specific analysis used to profile skin cancer.

"So, we think that this kind of biomarker could be used in a rapid and noninvasive way to detect skin cancer," she said to the Washington Post. 

"And this would be novel, because now the only way to do so is with a visual exam and a biopsy, which is, of course, invasive."

The theory is that cancerous cells give off a unique smell generated by the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in tissues.  

Gallagher’s work first took samples of air from the back and forearms of 25 healthy people and compared them to a sample taken from the air above 11 basal cell carcinoma patients and 11 healthy volunteers.

The VOC differs with the diseased skin emitting more of some chemicals than others.

Researchers hope to develop an odor profile for different types of skin cancer and use nano-sensor technology to develop an “electronic nose” that could sweep the skin looking for cancer.  

So far, they’ve developed the profile for basal cell carcinoma, but are working on a profile for squamous cell and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Currently, skin cancer is diagnosed through a more invasive means- a skin sample that is viewed under a microscope.  And a sample is only taken after signs appear on the skin surface, which delays treatment.

Dr. Jean-Claude Bystryn, former head of the melanoma program at New York University Medical Center warns that the technology may fall short.

"Because when you're dealing with cancer, the margin for error is really small. You don't want to miss something that may be a cancer that then doesn't get treated. And you don't want to treat someone for cancer if they actually have something else. So, it's really a very novel and interesting idea but one which I think really needs to be further researched and carefully confirmed."

The use of smell is not entirely new. 

Doctors in Roman times wrote about the musky breath of kidney failure patients. Today, diabetics have a distinct breath when they are experiencing dangerously high blood sugar.

Researchers have worked with dogs trained to detect skin cancer through smell. The Cleveland Clinic has used a breath sensor to detect lung cancer, found to be accurate 75 percent of the time.

Cyrano Sciences in Pasadena developed the sensing device used by the Cleveland Clinic and hopes to use it for detecting sinus infections, diabetes and cancer.  

The name comes from Cyrano de Bergerac, the 1897 play about a man with a large nose.

The FDA has approved an Osmetech Microbial Analyzer to detect urinary tract infections by analyzing gases from the bacteria in urine. #

1 Comment

Anonymous User
Posted by candice
Thursday, August 21, 2008 2:43 PM EST

Wow I didnt know that at all. Im so happy that I looked on your page today 8-21-2008. It has made me look at life in a new way. thank you.

Comments for this article are closed.

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