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Electronic noses to help test for cancer

AN electronic nose may be used to sniff out prostate cancer in future following a successful pilot trial.

The ChemPro 100 eNose was used to test the "headspace", or air above samples of patients' urine.

In the study, it proved at least as accurate as the standard PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test used as the first stage in diagnosing prostate cancer.

Lead scientist Dr Niku Oksala, from Tampere University in Finland, said: "The performance with the eNose matches that of PSA results in previous literature.

"PSA is known to correlate positively with prostate volume, which is a potential source of diagnostic error when comparing prostate cancer with benign disease."

The history of the test can be traced back to reports in the 1980s of dogs detecting prostate cancer in their owners.

Experimental studies demonstrated that trained sniffer dogs really can smell cancer, but there were variations in their performance.

Instead scientists have turned to electronic nose technology used in the food industry and agriculture, as well as by the military.

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