Predictive performance of selected breath volatile organic carbon compounds in stage 1 lung cancer

Ekaterina Smirnova, Christopher Mallow, John Muschelli, Yuan Shao, Jeffrey Thiboutot, Andres Lam, Ana M. Rule, Ciprian Crainiceanu, Lonny Yarmus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths accounting for almost 25% of all cancer deaths. Breath-based volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been studied in lung cancer but previous studies have numerous limitations. We conducted a prospective matched case to control study of the ability of preidentified VOC performance in the diagnosis of stage 1 lung cancer (S1LC). Methods: Study participants were enrolled in a matched case to two controls study. A case was defined as a patient with biopsy-confirmed S1LC. Controls included a matched control, by risk factors, and a housemate control who resided in the same residence as the case. We included 88 cases, 88 risk-matched, and 49 housemate controls. Each participant exhaled into a Tedlar® bag which was analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. For each study participant's breath sample, the concentration of thirteen previously identified VOCs were quantified and assessed using area under the curve in the detection of lung cancer. Results: Four VOCs were above the limit of detection in more than 10% of the samples. Acetoin was the only compound that was significantly associated with S1LC. Acetoin concentration below the 10th percentile (0.026 μg/L) in the training data had accuracy of 0.610 (sensitivity =0.649; specificity =0.583) in the test data. In multivariate logistic models, the best performing models included Acetoin alone (AUC =0.650). Conclusions: Concentration of Acetoin in exhaled breath has low discrimination performance for S1LC cases and controls, while there was not enough evidence for twelve additional published VOCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1009-1018
Number of pages10
JournalTranslational Lung Cancer Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Lung cancer
  • breath tests
  • mass spectrometry
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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