AI tech being developed to detect early signs of lung cancer

Click to play video: 'BC Cancer working on breath test for lung cancer'
BC Cancer working on breath test for lung cancer
BC Cancer researchers hope to use artificial intelligence to develop a breath test that could detect early-stage lung cancer, potentially saving millions of lives. Cassidy Mosconi reports. – Nov 30, 2023

New artificial intelligence technology is being developed by BC Cancer that will be used to detect lung cancer better.

The tech is being developed by BC Cancer’s lung cancer research team after it received two “large multi-institution grants” to establish and test a “novel breath test.”

The test will harness artificial intelligence to identify chemical signatures in breath to help detect early lung cancer and understand how changes in the lung microbiome may indicate lung cancer in “never smokers.”

Click to play video: 'November is ‘Lung Cancer Awareness Month’'
November is ‘Lung Cancer Awareness Month’

Early detection is critical for survival chances, something people like Marla Kott know all to well.

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Kott has defied the odds, living with Stage 4 lung cancer for nine years, after being diagnoses on her 60th birthday.

“This birthday was really positive for me, because I realized that I’m probably going to hit 70,” she told Global News.

“I think it’s amazing, the breakthroughs that are coming up. Where, I mean, had I been diagnosed earlier I could have been cured, and it’s really that simple.”

Nearly half of lung cancer cases are detected in Stage 4, which is after the cancer has metastasized. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 62 per cent in Stage 1 but drops to just three per cent in Stage 4, according to BC Cancer.

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Lung cancer death rates dropping'
Health Matters: Lung cancer death rates dropping

“There is an urgent need to create a risk-prediction tool to identify the people who don’t use tobacco, yet are at increased risk of developing lung cancer,” clinical scientist Dr. Renelle Myers said.

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“Lung cancer used to be viewed as a tobacco user’s disease, but it’s not. Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer, (and) we have to look harder at how our environment affects our lung health.”

Non-smokers account for almost 30 per cent of BC Cancer’s lung cancer patients.

Just like how UV exposure causes skin cancer, officials said exposure to dangerously high levels of PM2.5 in the air, such as forest fire smoke, is being linked to lung cancer.

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BC Cancer said a special piece of equipment, a GC Orbitrap Exploris, is needed to process the breath samples.

“Even if our team works 24/7, we couldn’t process all the samples required for these large, multi-centre studies with only the system we have now, Dr. Stephen Lam said.

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“Especially since samples can’t be stored for very long once collected.”

The BC Cancer Foundation is seeking to raise $500,000 to purchase and install a new GC Orbitrap Exploris to fuel BC Cancer’s life-saving work.

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