What your breath could reveal about your health

Breath tests may detect early signs of cancer, other diseases

Published On: Nov 08 2012 10:54:55 PM EST

It's said the eyes are the window to the soul, but it's your breath that may someday reveal the future of your health.

Imagine being able to diagnose ulcers, arthritis or cancer from a painless analysis of your breath.  Experts say it's not that far fetched, and the technology is only getting better.

"The way I look at breath testing, it's the new frontier of medical testing," said Dr. Peter Mazzone, a lung specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.  "Our breath works kind of like an exhaust system for the body.  Depending on how the different body parts are working, the chemicals in the breath might be different."

Experts said a lot of things, good and bad, make their way from a patient's tissues to their blood and through their lungs.

"Normally everyone breathes about 14 to 16 times a minute," said Local 4's Dr. Frank McGeorge. "Every time you inhale, you're breathing about 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen, plus a small amount of other gasses.  Inside your lungs, oxygen is taken in by your blood and many things like moisture, certain chemicals, and carbon dioxide is excreted."

High tech sensors are being developed to detect tiny differences in a person's breath indicating disease.

One promising cancer breath test appears to be 80 percent accurate in detecting lung cancer, as well as the type, the stage and how aggressive the cancer is.  Doctors hope tests like this may be able to detect many diseases.

You don't need fancy tests to detect some diseases though.  Doctors said uncontrolled diabetes can cause a fruity odor on the breath, like the smell of acetone.  Kidney failure often produces an ammonia or fishy scent to the breath, and advanced liver disease is also known to cause a similar smell.  Sometimes bad breath is simply related to poor dental hygiene, but in a young child, bad breath can be a sign of an infection.

The advanced breath tests being developed are still a little ways off, but the goal is to get them into doctor's offices in the next five years.

To learn more about the research, click here.