Can your breath detect cancer?
SUMMARY: Your breath can say more about you than just your food preferences
Posted: September 28, 2012
Many people may believe that their breath is nothing more than the smell they emit from their mouth and only indicates whether or not they have used a mint or brushed their teeth recently. These individuals would be wrong, because your bad breath can actually say a lot more about you than just what you ate for lunch. For example, a study published in the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) Journal of Thoracic Oncology recently explained how a breath test could be used to discriminate between benign and malignant pulmonary nodules.
A breath test for cancer?
Scientists from Israel and Colorado teamed up on this project and collected samples of exhaled breath from patients who were under examination for pulmonary nodules. The researchers then used a device they created to measure levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the samples. As you may know, VOCs are gases that can cause bad breath, and halitosis specialists often measure these and volatile sulfur compounds to determine how rank someone's breath truly is.
The researchers were able to use the breath they collected to determine if a patient had malignant or benign tumors. This is important because according to the scientists, while low-dose CT screening - the current method used to detect malignant pulmonary tumors - has effectively reduced mortality rates, it also often produces false positives. This means that many patients undergo invasive and painful tests only to discover that their tumor was actually benign. This new breath test could help reduce the number of patients sent for unnecessary and painful tests.
"The reported breath test in this study could have significant impact on reducing unnecessary investigation and reducing the risk of procedure-related morbidity and costs," wrote the study authors. "In addition, it could facilitate faster therapeutic intervention, replacing time-consuming clinical follow-up that would eventually lead to the same intervention."
Pulmonary nodules aren't the only health problems that your breath can help diagnose. Halitosis can be a sign of a number of conditions. For example, in rare cases, bad breath may be an indicator of Sjogren's syndrome, an immune disorder characterized by dry eyes and dry mouth. Tennis star Venus Williams suffers from this condition, which may cause aching joints, persistent cough and some truly bad halitosis. Sjogren's seriously dries out the mouth, and that lack of saliva can allow bacteria to grow and spread. When you eat, the bacteria in your mouth get a meal as well, and after these organisms are done snacking, they can release additional bad smells.
Of course, one of the main things that bad breath can indicate is poor dental health. If you don't brush your teeth twice a day, floss at least once daily and use alcohol-free mouthwash regularly there's a good chance that the bacteria in your mouth is going to run rampant. When this happens, your breath is sure to exhibit the signs of halitosis and lead to something even worse. Studies continue to suggest that poor oral health habits may cause bacteria in the mouth to get so bad that they enter the bloodstream and affect the rest of the body. Researchers have even suggested that this can result in heart disease, clogged arteries and even stroke, according to The Mayo Clinic.
Clearly, bad breath can mean a lot of different things. However, more often than not it is merely the result of that garlic pizza at lunch, so get some alcohol-free mouthwash and be prepared for it to be cleared up in no time.