Analysis of exhaled breath for diagnosing head and neck squamous cell carcinoma: A feasibility study

M. Gruber, U. Tisch, R. Jeries, H. Amal, M. Hakim, O. Ronen, T. Marshak, D. Zimmerman, O. Israel, E. Amiga, I. Doweck*, H. Haick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Background:Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC) are wide-spread cancers that often lead to disfigurement and loss of important functions such as speech and ingestion. To date, HNSCC has no adequate method for early detection and screening. Methods:Exhaled breath samples were collected from 87 volunteers; 62 well-defined breath samples from 22 HNSCC patients (larynx and pharynx), 21 patients with benign tumours (larynx and pharynx) and 19 healthy controls were analysed in a dual approach: (i) chemical analysis using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and (ii) breath-print analysis using an array of nanomaterial-based sensors, combined with a statistical algorithm.Results:Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry identified ethanol, 2-propenenitrile and undecane as potential markers for HNSCC and/or benign tumours of the head and neck. The sensor-array-based breath-prints could clearly distinguish HNSCC both from benign tumours and from healthy states. Within the HNSCC group, patients could be classified according to tumour site and stage.Conclusions:We have demonstrated the feasibility of a breath test for a specific, clinically interesting application: distinguishing HNSCC from tumour-free or benign tumour states, as well as for staging and locating HNSCC. The sensor array used here could form the basis for the development of an urgently needed non-invasive, cost-effective, fast and reliable point-of-care diagnostic/screening tool for HNSCC.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)790-798
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
Issue number4
StatePublished - 12 Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research leading to these results has received funding from the FP7-Health Program under the LCAOS (grant agreement no. 258868), FP7’s ERC grant under DIAG-CANCER (grant agreement no. 256639), and a Research Fund by Clalit Health Organization, Israel. The authors would like to thank Mrs Manal Abud (Technion – ITT) for helpful discussions.


  • GCMS
  • breath
  • diagnosis
  • head and neck cancer
  • nanotechnology
  • sensor
  • staging
  • volatile organic compound


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