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Sniffing Out Cancer

September 9, 2008

New technology could sniff out skin cancer before it turns deadly.


The smell of skin cancer….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

On a previous show, we told you how dogs can detect cancer with their noses. Now those dogs have inspired new technology that tests for skin cancer based on odorants given off by the skin. Analytical chemist Michelle Gallagher and her colleagues collect these odorants and analyze them using an instrument called a gas mass spectrometer. They identified 92 different chemicals. Then they compared the concentrations of these chemicals in healthy subjects to those of people with skin cancer.

MICHELLE GALLAGHER (Rohm and Haas Company, Pennsylvania):
We found that there were two compounds in particular that varied in concentration when compared to the healthy subjects. One was higher and one was lower in concentration.

She says analyzing odorant concentrations could one day become part of routine skin cancer screening at your doctor’s office. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.