Using Odors to Diagnose Skin Cancer

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • If you, or your doctor, suspects skin cancer, the first step is a visual examination. Your doctor will look at the size, shape, color and texture of the lesion. If he believes further testing is needed, he will order a biopsy. Your doctor will remove a portion of, or the entire growth, to send to a laboratory for testing. Biopsies are normally performed in your doctor’s office or an outpatient clinic and often require local anesthesia.

    A new research study may have discovered a non-invasive way for diagnosing skin cancer - analyzing odors. The study was completed at the Monell Center and published in the Journal of Chromatography B. Scientists found that melanoma cells have a unique odor signature that can be analyzed not only for the presence of cancer but for the type of melanoma.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    Researchers grew cancer cells as well as melanocytes, the skin cells that produce skin color and are affected by skin cancer. Human skin cells produce airborne chemical molecules (VOCs) which are often odorous. The cells used in the study were analyzed for the VOCs - normal melanocytes and skin cancer cells at various stages - and found that the VOCs of melanoma cells were different than those of normal cells.

    The equipment used in the study, however, was not portable or easily used in everyday settings, therefore, the researchers used a nano-sensor, which would be portable, to examine the various VOCs and found that this device could also identify the different VOCs.

    While this diagnostic tool is still in the research phase and was only used on laboratory grown cells, the scientists are hopeful that it can be used in the future as a quick and non-invasive way of diagnosing skin cancer as well as other diseases. This diagnostic tool should also be able to identify the stage of melanoma, leading to quicker treatment of more advanced cancers. The researchers are currently analyzing VOCs from human patients with primary melanoma.


    “Volatile Biomarkers from Human Melanoma Cells,” 2013, May, Jae Kwak, Michelle Gallagher, Mehmet Hakan Ozdener, Charles J. Wysocki, Brett R. Goldsmith, Amaka Isamah, Adam Faranda, Steven S. Fakharzadeh, Meenhard Herlyn, A.T. Charlie Johnson, George Preti, Journal of Chromatography B

Published On: June 26, 2013