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Profile of exhaled‐breath volatile organic compounds to diagnose pancreatic cancer. BJS 2018; 105: 1493-1500.

Published: 18th July 2018

Authors: S. R. Markar, B. Brodie, S.‐T. Chin, A. Romano, D. Spalding, G. B. Hanna et al.


Pancreatic cancer has a very poor prognosis as most patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage when curative treatments are not possible. Breath volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have shown potential as novel biomarkers to detect cancer. The aim of the study was to quantify differences in exhaled breath VOCs of patients with pancreatic cancers compared with cohorts without cancer.


Patients were recruited to an initial development cohort and a second validation cohort. The cancer group included patients with localized and metastatic cancers, whereas the control group included patients with benign pancreatic disease or normal pancreas. The reference test for comparison was radiological imaging using abdominal CT, ultrasound imaging or endoscopic ultrasonography, confirmed by histopathological examination as appropriate. Breath was collected from the development cohort with steel bags, and from the validation cohort using the ReCIVA™ system. Analysis was performed using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.


A total of 68 patients were recruited to the development cohort (25 with cancer, 43 no cancer) and 64 to the validation cohort (32 with cancer, 32 no cancer). Of 66 VOCs identified, 12 were significantly different between groups in the development cohort on univariable analysis. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis using significant volatile compounds and the validation cohort produced an area under the curve of 0·736 (sensitivity 81 per cent, specificity 58 per cent) for differentiating cancer from no cancer, and 0·744 (sensitivity 70 per cent, specificity 74 per cent) for differentiating adenocarcinoma from no cancer.


Breath VOCs may distinguish patients with pancreatic cancer from those without cancer.

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