British researchers said Monday they have devised a test that can detect bladder cancer from certain odors in the urine.
The technique was inspired by reports about how dogs may be able to sniff out certain cancers, said researchers from the University of Liverpool and University of the West of England.
If wider studies can confirm the test's effectiveness, the technique could offer a new way to test early for a cancer that is often costly to detect and treat.
"It is thought that dogs can smell cancer, but this is obviously not a practical way for hospitals to diagnose the disease," said Norman Ratcliffe, from the Institute of Biosensor Technology at UWE Bristol.
"Taking this principle, however, we have developed a device that can give us a profile of the odor in urine. It reads the gases that chemicals in the urine can give off when the sample is heated."
About 72,000 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, and about 10,000 new cases are seen annually in Britain. Smoking is considered the leading risk factor.
"It is a disease that, if caught early, can be treated effectively, but unfortunately we do not have any early screening methods other than diagnosis through urine tests at the stage when it starts to become a problem," said Chris Probert, a professor at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Translational Medicine.
The new device, called ODOREADER, contains a sensor that responds to chemicals in gas emitted from urine, said the study in the US scientific journal PLoS ONE.
It analyzes the gas and reports on the chemicals contained in urine, which scientists can then read on a computer screen in order to diagnose cancer of the bladder.
"We looked at 98 samples of urine to develop the device, and tested it on 24 patient samples known to have cancer and 74 samples that have urological symptoms, but no cancer," said Probert.
"The device correctly assigned 100 percent of cancer patients."
The next step is to expand trials to a wider sample of patients to determine whether it is effective or not for hospital use, the study said.