Health News: New Device May Be Able To Detect Bladder Cancer Through Smell

New technology for bladder cancer testing

Every year 12.7 million people around the world find out they have some form of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and 7.6 million die from it. The CDC also notes, "More people die from cancer than from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined." This disease is often deadly because many individuals aren't diagnosed in time, or can't afford the costly procedures and drugs to help them combat it. What if doctors could find a way to diagnose possible cases of cancer in a quicker, less painful fashion? Researchers in England may have found a way to do just that.

Currently, the only reliable methods of detecting bladder cancer are invasive and possibly uncomfortable to the patient. Doctors use a procedure called a cystoscopy, which involves inserting a fiber-optic cable into a person's urethra. If this method returns inconclusive evidence, urologists may opt to have the patient undergo a biopsy. The biopsy is even more invasive, requiring a surgeon to extract tissue samples with a needle. In order to numb the area being examined, medication may be administered through the use of a different needle. For people who have a fear of syringes, this might be a hellish experience. This is one reason why the Odoreader, a cancer testing device, could be a welcome advance in health care technology.

Odoreader: tech invention to detect bladder cancer

The idea for the Odoreader came about because of a canine's ability to detect smells that exude from a human being, which may include the scent of cancer. Researchers from the University of Liverpool and the University of the West of England developed the device over four years. This sensor can detect certain chemicals or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in a person's urine. The Odoreader can reportedly do this in 30 minutes, making it quicker and less painful than the other methods described above. And the sensor device is based on gas chromatograph (GC) technology, rather than all those needles.

Researchers gathered 98 urine samples from individuals aged 27 through 91. Of these patients, 24 had urothelial cell carcinoma (bladder cancer), and the other 74 had urology symptoms, but no malignant cancerous growths. According to the study results in PLOS ONE, a scholarly journal of scientific research, the Odoreader correctly identified bladder cancer in about 96 percent of the people who gave urine samples.

Potential benefits of new cancer testing procedures

The Odoreader's initial trial offers great news, but more testing needs to be done to confirm results from this small sample size. With high success rates in additional trials, this device might move from being a promising idea to a technology with the potential to save lives. In the Huffington Post, Dr. Sarah Hazell, senior science communication officer at Cancer Research UK, called this trial "another promising step towards detecting bladder cancer from urine samples, something that would ultimately provide a less invasive means of diagnosing the disease."

Lower-impact testing could be more "user-friendly" for the type of patient that most often has this cancer -- seniors. The National Institutes of Health predicts that in 2013, most of the patients with bladder cancer in the United States will be over 70 years old, and the majority will be male. Current methods for diagnosing bladder cancer may require some form of anesthetic to be administered, and patients who undergo a biopsy are told that they shouldn't operate a car afterwards.

Another potential advantage is the cost -- bladder cancer may be the most costly cancer per patient to manage, according to the pilot study. Having less expensive procedures than biopsies and cystoscopies could expand the accessibility of health care and cancer screening. Researcher Professor Norman Ratcliffe explained to the Daily Mail that the Odoreader is easy to use and could be used at a doctor's private practice. Potentially, nursing staff might be able to assist with alternative procedures of this sort. Medical technicians or clinical laboratory technicians who work in hospitals, diagnostic and medical laboratories, clinics, or large physicians' offices typically are trained to perform urine chemical analyses using tools such as a microscope or automated analyzer.

Could this help save lives?

Researcher Professor Chris Probert told the Daily Mail that bladder cancer can be treated effectively if caught early. The current mortality rate is significant. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 72,500 persons in the U.S. will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2013, and about 15,000 of these cases are projected to result in death. The article in PLOS ONE notes that over 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bladder cancer yearly, and half of them are likely to die from it.

Existing methods for diagnosing bladder cancer are generally used after the early stages, when someone already has the more visible symptoms of bladder cancer, such as blood in their urine, the need to visit the restroom more often than usual, or pain when urinating. A less invasive method that could deliver results quickly might help doctors catch the disease earlier. Since the Odoreader only uses a urine sample it could conceivably become part of a regular check-up routine. Professor Probert laments the lack of screening methods for bladder cancer except when the disease is already at "the stage when it starts to become a problem." If it shows promise in more trials, the Odoreader may be able to change that for the better.

About the Author:

Jamar Ramos has been writing poetry and fiction for many years, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For the last three years, Mr. Ramos switched to producing blog posts for and writing professionally as an independent contributor for a number of Internet sites. His creative works have been featured in The Bohemian and The San Matean. He now contributes articles for,, and