Future Doctors Could Sniff Out Cancer

Skin cancer is on the rise in this country. The disease is currently diagnosed by taking a tissue sample of suspicious moles or lesions on the skin, which can be a slow & painful process. In cases where there are no outward signs of skin cancer, the disease can be difficult to detect, leading to a delayed or missed diagnosis.

Doctors in the future could detect the most common form of cancer in US just by waving a wand-like scanner over patients, researchers claim.

"We're the first to identify & quantify the compounds involved in skin cancer odors," said researcher Michelle Gallagher, an analytical chemist at specialty materials company Rohm & Haas in Spring House, Pa.

Recently, scientists found that dogs can actually be trained to sniff out skin tumors. This suggests the disease leads to changes within ill cells that release telltale chemicals. Medical tools that could detect these differences could give doctors a critical lead in fighting skin cancer.

"Knowledge of a link between odor & disease goes back to ancient Greece & ancient Rome," researcher George Preti, an analytical organic chemist with Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, told LiveScience. For instance, sweet-smelling breath was a telltale sign of diabetes, while a foul odor from a wound indicated infection.

"We found a different profile of chemicals above tumor sites relative to healthy skin," Gallagher said. "The same chemicals are present, but at skin cancer sites some chemicals are increased, while others are decreased compared to healthy individuals."

Gallagher declined to give specific details as to what chemicals we discovered. The researchers have applied for a patent on their technique.

The scientists plan to identify the scents linked with the six other most common types of skin cancer, including squamous cell cancer & melanoma, the deadliest form. If we succeed, we hope to combine their findings with emerging "electronic nose" technology designed to identify odors. Gallagher envisions a wand-like tool that can get waved across the skin & give off an alarm or beep when cancer is detected, similar to the fictional medical "tricorder" from "Star Trek."
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