September 1, 2008
On the Scent ; In Association With the NHS
SKIN cancer has a distinctive smell that could be used to diagnose the disease, researchers have learned.
Scientists used a machine to analyse the air above basal cell tumours - the most common form of skin cancer.
It was found to differ from air tested above the same patches of skin in healthy volunteers.
"Our findings may some day allow doctors to screen for and diagnose skin cancers at very early stages," said study leader Dr Michelle Gallagher, from the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia, US.
Human skin produces numerous airborne "smell" molecules known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
Dr Gallagher's team obtained VOC profiles from basal cell carcinoma sites in 11 patients. These were then compared with profiles from the same number of healthy volunteers.
The scientists hope to characterise skin odour profiles associated with other forms of skin cancer.
Nina Goad, from the British Association of Dermatologists, said: "While this research is interesting, it is still quite theoretical at present."
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