The Scent of Cancer

The Scent of Cancer

Odors emanating from the skin can be used to identify basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, according to research out of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. The findings, presented at an American Chemical Society conference, may lead to even more methods to detect various forms of skin cancer.

The researchers “sniffed” air above basal cell tumors and found a different profile of chemical compounds, compared to skin located at the same sites in healthy control subjects.

“Our findings may someday allow doctors to screen for and diagnose skin cancers at very early stages,” said Michelle Gallagher, PhD.

It turns out that skin produces airborne chemical molecules known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, many of which have a scent. In the study presented at the conference, the researchers took VOC profiles from basal cell carcinoma sites in 11 patients and compared them to profiles from similar skin sites in 11 healthy persons.

Both profiles contained the same array of chemicals; the difference involved the amounts. Some chemical quantities increased and others decreased in samples from basal cell carcinoma sites.

To identify changes that were the tell-tale signs of cancer, researchers identified a normative profile for VOCs, which varied based on age, gender and area of the body being examined.

In research published online in the British Journal of Dermatology, Gallagher and his colleagues sampled air above two skin sites – forearm and upper back – in 25 healthy male and female subjects. They ranged in age from 19 to 79.

The researchers identified nearly 100 different chemical compounds coming from skin. A normal skin profile varied between the two body sites, with differences in both the types and concentrations of VOCs. Aging did not influence the types of VOCs found in these profiles; however, certain chemicals were present in greater amounts in older subjects.

Implications of the research are considered to be vast. Together, the two studies may help advance development of new methods to analyze skin for signs of altered health status.

Increased understanding of the chemicals related to skin odor could also lead to development of more effective anti-aging skin care products.


ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Robert Patrick issue include Headlines — Voting Gains; Help with Medicare; Humor — Run for Office? Run the Other Way!; Green Pages — Water by Computer, Solar Flashlight; DRLC — Make Polling Places Accessible For All; Best Practices — HP & Boeing; Anita Kaiser — Finding Innovative Ways to Mother; JR Martinez — Soldiering On; Managing Pain — Ear Aches, Tooth Aches; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

Vol 2008 Oct/Nov

More excerpts from the Robert Patrick issue:

Robert Patrick -- Interview

Kennedy Legacy — Anthony Kennedy Shriver - Best Buddies; William Kennedy Smith, MD - iCons

Asst. Secretary of Labor — ‘Everybody Needs to Work’

Meredith Eaton — From Therapist to Actress

The Scent of Cancer

JR Martinez — Soldiering On

Best Practices — HP & Boeing

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