Israeli researchers have come up with an "electronic nose" device which can detect chemical signals present in the breath of lung or head and neck cancer patients. The study was published in the British Journal of Cancer and included 22 patients with various head-and-neck cancers, 24 with lung cancer and 36 healthy volunteers. This is a very encouraging test for the potential early diagnosis of cancer.

This prototype device has generated great interest in cancer institutions around the world, with the hope that one day such a test could be used in a GP's surgery to provide an instant diagnosis particularly for those patients with head and neck cancer which are often diagnosed at advanced stage. In the UK ~ 9,000 patients are diagnosed with head & neck cancer each year.

In Japan, a Labrador retriever has sniffed out bowel cancer in breath and stool samples during a study in Japan. The biology of tumour is thought to include a distinct smell and a series of studies have used dogs to try to detect it. 

Published 27/04/2011, Review date August 2015