A trial with the experimental MetabolomX breath test at the Cleveland Clinic showed it was 80 percent accurate in detecting lung cancer.
That's similar to the accuracy of CT-scans.
The breath test can also differentiate between the types and stages of lung cancer.
It takes advantage of the "metabolic signature" every body emits when we exhale. The MetabolomX test looks for compounds released into the breath as cancer cells grow.
Dr. Peter Mazzone, the lead researcher, says, "The signature we find in the breath tells us a little bit about how that cancer is behaving. So a different type of cancer, one that is aggressive versus one that is a bit quieter will probably produce a different signature."
The researchers tested samples from 229 people, including 92 with confirmed lung cancer, and others at high risk of developing lung cancer or with undefined growths in their lungs.
The researchers hope to develop a low-cost breath test that can be combined with CT scans to catch lung cancer early and also tell the difference between growths that are cancerous and those that are benign.