Israel researchers use electronic nose, urine test to detect early breast cancer

Israel researchers use electronic nose, urine test to detect early breast cancer

Team from Ben-Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center says these inexpensive methods may be used for other cancers next

A woman with breast cancer receives a CT scan (Chen Leopold/FLASH90)
A woman with breast cancer receives a CT scan (Chen Leopold/FLASH90)

Researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center in Tel Aviv say they have developed a new and accurate way to screen for early breast cancer, using an electronic nose to analyze breath and a urine test analysis.

In their study, published in Computers in Biology and Medicine, the researchers said the methods they used allowed them to isolate relevant data and thereby more accurately identify breast cancer biomarkers.

The study showed that the researchers managed to detect breast cancer with more than 95 percent average accuracy using two inexpensive commercial electronic noses (e-nose) that identified unique breath patterns in women with breast cancer. In addition, they used gas-chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyze substances found in urine. The statistical analyses of urine samples submitted by both healthy patients and those diagnosed with breast cancer yielded 85 percent average accuracy, they researchers said.

“Breast cancer survival is strongly tied to the sensitivity of tumor detection,” said Prof. Yehuda Zeiri, a member of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. Accurate methods for detecting smaller, earlier tumors remains a priority, he said.

Some Ashkenazi Jewish women who carry a particular BRCA-1 genetic mutation have a 65 percent chance of developing breast cancer. (Media for Medical/UIG via Getty Images)

“Our new approach utilizing urine and exhaled breath samples, analyzed with inexpensive, commercially available processes, is non-invasive, accessible and may be easily implemented in a variety of settings,” he said.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy among women. In 2016, breast cancer accounted for 29 percent of all new cancers identified in the US and was responsible for 14 percent of all cancer-related deaths, the study said. For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for other cancers, besides lung cancer, according to, and, besides skin cancer, the disease is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women.

Breast cancer is most common cancer in women globally, with nearly 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012 , according to World Cancer Research Fund International, and the fifth-most common cause of cancer death among women.

The widely used mammography screenings, which have been proven to significantly reduce breast cancer mortality, are not always able to detect small tumors in dense breast tissue, the researchers said. In fact, mammography sensitivity, which is typically 75% to 85% accurate, decreases to between 30% to 50% when the breast tissue is dense.

Diagnostic imaging detection methods currently used for smaller tumors have significant drawbacks, the researchers said. Dual-energy digital mammography, while effective, increases radiation exposure, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is expensive. Biopsies and serum biomarker identification processes are invasive, equipment-intensive and require significant expertise, they said.

“We’ve now shown that inexpensive, commercial electronic noses are sufficient for classifying cancer patients at early stages,” Zeiri said in a statement. “With further study, it may also be possible to analyze exhaled breath and urine samples to identify other cancer types, as well.”

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