Analysis of volatile organic compounds in the exhaled breath for the diagnosis of lung cancer

J Thorac Oncol. 2008 Jul;3(7):774-80. doi: 10.1097/JTO.0b013e31817c7439.


Volatile organic compounds are able to be detected in the exhaled breath by a variety of sensing techniques. These volatiles may be produced by cellular metabolic processes, or inhaled/absorbed from exogenous sources. Lung cancer cells may produce and process these compounds different than normal cells. The differences may be detectable in the breath. The following manuscript will review the evidence supporting the premise that a unique chemical signature can be detected in the breath of patients with lung cancer, discuss the results of studies using mass spectrometry and nonspecific chemical sensing techniques to detect the unique lung cancer signature, and speculate on the advancements that must occur to develop a breath test accurate enough to be clinically useful.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques
  • Breath Tests*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Volatilization


  • Organic Chemicals