According to the website Breastcancer.org, one in 12 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. More than 40,000 women will die from the disease in the U.S. in 2018. The cost of treating breast cancer is expect to reach more than $20 billion a year by 2020. One of the keys to lowering these numbers is the early detection of breast cancer, because earlier treatment generally is more effective and outcomes are better. The traditional detection methods — self-examination and mammograms — have proven problematic, due to adherence issues, false positives, and missed tumors.
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have been studying low-cost yet effective ways to detect breast cancer sooner. They have been able to identify chemical biomarkers that indicate the presence of the disease. Using an inexpensive “electronic nose,” they are able to detect various chemical compounds in a patient’s breath that results in a 95% accurate detection of breast cancer. They have also found that urine samples analyzed in a standard mass spectrometer yield an 85% accurate diagnosis. These samples are quick and easy to take, and avoid the discomfort and inconvenience of standard mammograms. Note that mammograms are only 75% to 85% accurate, and that score declines to 30% to 50% for subjects with dense breast tissue.
This is just one more case where biomarkers have the potential to transform healthcare. Ultimately, individuals might be able to take breath and urine samples at home to provide early detection of a wide range of illnesses and conditions, long before any symptoms might appear.