Skin Cancer Carries Its Own Scent
Researchers have identified an "odor profile" for skin cancer, with an eye toward developing a fast, simple and noninvasive test to diagnose the most common form of skin cancer in the United States. Researches found that the odor profile coming from the skin of skin cancer patients was markedly different than that coming from healthy skin.
So, this kind of biomarker could be used in a rapid and noninvasive way to detect skin cancer, and this would be novel, because now the only way to do so is with a visual exam and a biopsy, which is, of course, invasive.
In all the research, scientists were able to differentiate healthy odor profiles from cancerous ones by picking up on the unique smells generated by the presence of differing amounts of naturally occurring chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in healthy versus diseased tissue.
In the current work, the researchers first sampled the air above back and forearm areas among 25 healthy men and women between the ages of 19 and 80. Then, they tested the air above tumor sites in 11 basal cell carcinoma patients, as well as above the disease-free skin of 11 healthy volunteers.
The sampling revealed that cancerous tissue and healthy tissue contained different VOC formulas with different smells. While skin cancer tissue did not produce any new VOCs, the diseased area had more of some chemicals and less of others.
The team hopes to develop an odor profile for each form of skin cancer, after which an attempt would be made to link the profiles to nano-sensor technology to fashion a kind of "electronic nose”. The authors envision the resulting device as a kind of diagnostic wand, designed to sweep across the surface of the skin and detect cancer.