Belgian scientists have developed an innovative breath analysis tool that can detect early signs of malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) – a rare, aggressive form of cancer that forms in the lung lining as a result of asbestos exposure.

Breath analysis by MCC/IMS allows malignant pleural mesothelioma patients to be discriminated from controls and holds promise for further investigation as a screening tool for former asbestos-exposed persons at risk of developing malignant pleural mesothelioma,” says the paper.

The device was tested successfully by physicians in the Department of Respiratory and Internal Medicine at Ghent University in Belgium when they administered breath screening tests on 66 individuals, including 23 patients with MPM.

Since people with mesothelioma and those who come into contact with asbestos tend to exhale different levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) compared to healthy people, an innovative technology called multi-capillary column-ion mobility spectrometry (MCC-IMS) was used, which measures the types and levels of VOCs.

To test the device, doctors administered breath analysis on 3 groups of people – 23 patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma; 22 individuals without the symptoms of mesothelioma, who had worked in an asbestos industry; and a control group of 21 healthy people who were not exposed to asbestos.

They found the test to be 76% accurate at separating the patients with mesothelioma from either those exposed to asbestos or healthy individuals.

The device also had 87% accuracy when differentiating between the people exposed to asbestos and those suffering from mesothelioma.

Like most other cancers, mesothelioma a patient’s best chance of survival is if the condition is diagnosed early. The scenario is extremely difficult with mesothelioma because the symptoms of asbestos exposure are not detected until the condition is at an advanced age.

Since there is no dependable way to check for mesothelioma, the scientists are hopeful that the MCC-IMS test may enhance the odds for patients facing the most risk of the disease.

The study was published in the Journal of Breath Research.