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 Donald Low, MD
Donald Low, MD

SEATTLE – (Dec. 16, 2019) — Research is beginning at Virginia Mason that will assess the accuracy of a breath test for detecting esophageal cancer, one of the fastest growing and deadliest cancers in the United States.

The project, supported by a grant from the Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation, is led by Donald Low, MD, who specializes in esophageal and thoracic surgery, along with George Hanna, PhD, of St. Mary’s Hospital in London (Imperial College Healthcare), who will serve as co-investigator.

At Virginia Mason, the project will involve as many as 50 patients over the next 12 to 18 months. The research will attempt to build on findings from recent research into a potential breath test for esophageal cancer conducted in the United Kingdom. See article in JAMA Oncology.

“There are currently no standard screenings for the early detection of esophageal cancer, and symptoms often present only after the illness is advanced and difficult to treat,” Dr. Low said. “We hope to change this. Research in London demonstrated the potential for breath analysis to provide an indication when early esophageal cancer has occurred. The purpose of our study is to assess the diagnostic accuracy of a breath test.”

Virginia Mason researchers will examine the reliability of such a test “longitudinally,” Dr. Low added, explaining that patients enrolled in the study will provide sputum and urine samples, in addition to exhaled breaths, that will be evaluated for common markers at three separate points in their treatment journey. The ultimate goal is to develop a noninvasive test for the detection of esophageal cancer that is based on the unique signature of volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath.

In 2019, an estimated 16,000 people will die from esophageal cancer in the United States, while less than 20 percent of those diagnosed with the disease will survive more than five years, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also called acid reflux disease and heartburn, can lead to Barrett’s Esophagus, a primary risk factor for esophageal cancer.

“One of the reasons for conducting research is that you never know what you will discover,” said Dr. Low. “It’s exciting to imagine a day, not far in the future, when a person will be able to breathe into a special device that can provide reliable information, based on the breath, indicating whether the individual has early-stage esophageal cancer. This would be a marvelous advancement for medicine and patients. My colleagues and I are proud to be involved in the assessment of this new diagnostic approach.”

Virginia Mason is a leading provider of esophageal cancer treatment, serving patients from across the United States.

About Virginia Mason Health System
Virginia Mason, founded in 1920, is a nonprofit regional health care system based in Seattle that serves the Pacific Northwest. In the Puget Sound region, the system includes 336-bed Virginia Mason Hospital; a primary and specialty care group practice of more than 500 physicians; outpatient medical facilities and services in Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Edmonds, Federal Way, Kirkland, Issaquah and Lynnwood; Bailey-Boushay House, the first skilled-nursing and outpatient chronic care management program in the United States designed specifically to meet the needs of people with HIV/AIDS; Benaroya Research Institute, which is internationally recognized for autoimmune disease research; Virginia Mason Foundation; and Virginia Mason Institute, which trains health care professionals and others around the world in the Virginia Mason Production System, an innovative management method for improving quality and safety.

Virginia Mason Health System also includes Virginia Mason Memorial, a 226-bed hospital serving Yakima Valley in central Washington since 1950. Virginia Mason Memorial includes primary care practices and specialty care services, including high-quality cardiac care; cancer care through North Star Lodge; breast health at `Ohana Mammography Center; acute hospice and respite care at Cottage in the Meadow; pain management at Water’s Edge; an advanced NICU unit that offers specialty care for at-risk infants; advanced services for children with special health care needs at Children’s Village; and The Memorial Foundation.

Media Contact:
Gale Robinette
Media Relations Manager
Virginia Mason Health System
(206) 341-1509
Gale.Robinette@VirginiaMason.org

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