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Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (CCLM)

Published in Association with the European Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (EFLM)

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Exhaled breath analysis for early cancer detection: principle and progress in direct mass spectrometry techniques

1Department of Chemistry, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada

Corresponding author: Koffi Badjagbo, Department of Chemistry, Université de Montréal, CP 6128 Centre-ville, Montréal, H3C 3J7, QC, Canada Phone: +1 514 343-6111 ext. 3921

Citation Information: Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine. Volume 50, Issue 11, Pages 1893–1902, ISSN (Online) 1437-4331, ISSN (Print) 1434-6621, DOI: 10.1515/cclm-2012-0208, May 2012

Publication History

Published Online:


Volatile biomarker analysis in exhaled breath is becoming one of the desirable strategies for cancer detection because it may offer a relatively inexpensive, rapid, and non-invasive screening method for early diagnosis. Breath analysis has attracted a considerable amount of scientific and clinical interest over the past decade. However, breath is not yet used for routine medical diagnostic purposes. Challenges faced in the development of breath analysis for cancer diagnosis include developing techniques that can measure biomarkers in exhaled breath at ultratrace levels, providing definitive evidence for their presence and for the relationship between the proposed biomarker and the underlying condition. Various analytical methods are used for the detection of breath biomarkers. Gas chromatography-based methods which involve sample collection, analyte preconcentration, desorption, and separation steps are the most popular. However, direct-sampling mass spectrometry techniques have been proven more reliable for air analysis without prior sample pretreatment or chromatographic separation. This review focuses on the most commonly used direct mass spectrometry methods for the direct online analysis of endogenous cancer biomarkers in exhaled breath, with particular attention to principle of detection, method performance, advantages, shortcomings, recent advances, and applications within health-related studies for cancer biomarkers research. The principle behind the science of breath analysis for cancer diagnosis is also discussed.

Keywords: cancer; direct-sampling mass spectrometry; exhaled breath; proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry; selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry; volatile biomarker

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