A breath test could one day be used to detect four of the most common types of cancer, say scientists.
Researchers have developed sensors that can spot chemical signs of lung, breast, bowel and prostate cancer in a person's breath.
They believe further work could lead to a cheap, portable “electronic nose” that can help doctors diagnose cancer at an early stage.
The scientists carried out tests on 177 volunteers including healthy participants and patients with different cancers.
They showed it was possible to use sensors to detect chemicals emitted from tumour cells that appear in the breath.
Professor Abraham Kuten, one of the researchers from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, said: “If we can confirm these initial results in large-scale studies, this new technology could become a simple tool for early diagnosis of cancer along with imaging.
“It could also be an easy way to assess and monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatment and detect relapses earlier.”
The research is reported in the British Journal of Cancer.
Dr Lesley Walker, from the charity Cancer Research UK, which owns the journal, said: “These results are interesting and show that there is the potential to develop a single breath test to detect these cancers.”
Meanwhile, new medical research revealed yesterday has discovered that people are more likely to suffer heart attacks in cold weather.
Each 1C reduction in temperature is linked to about 200 extra heart attacks across the UK, according to a study published online by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
People aged between 75 and 84 and those with a previous history of heart disease appeared to be more vulnerable to the effects of colder conditions, while those taking aspirin were less susceptible.
The study found that rises in temperature do not increase the risk of heart attacks, although the researchers speculated this might be because the UK only rarely experiences very hot weather.
The team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed data for 84,010 hospital admissions for heart attacks in England and Wales in 2003 to 2006.