Thursday, 21 August 2008

Getting nosey with skin cancer

Scientists have identified the compounds that give skin cancer its unique smell, suggesting that an electronic nose could help doctors sniff out skin cancer.

Studies have previously established that dogs can smell cancer and that cancerous skin has a different odor profile than non-cancerous skin. Building on these finding, Michelle Gallagher and colleagues used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to sample the air above cancerous and non-cancerous skin and, for the first time, determined the chemical composition of cancer's unique smell.

These findings were announced yesterday at the American Chemical Society Meeting in Philadelphia. The authors hope to develop an electronic nose that could be used by doctors to quickly, and non-invasively, identify skin cancer. Skin cancer, the most common form of cancer is the US, is currently diagnosed by time consuming, and invasive, biopsies. Lung cancer may also be detectable with an electronic nose.

Interestingly, TB also has a unique odor, which rats and honeybees can detect. In trials, however (and perhaps unsurprisingly), patients have balked at the idea of being diagnosed by a rat. Perhaps odor profiles of other diseases can also be detected electronically. Who nose?