A study looking at breath samples to detect cancer early (PAN Cancer Early Detection Study)

Cancer type:

Bladder cancer
Kidney cancer
Liver cancer
Oesophageal cancer
Pancreatic cancer
Prostate cancer
Stomach cancer





This study is looking to see if it is possible to analyse breath samples to spot cancer early. 

Cancer Research UK supports this study.

More about this trial

It is easier to treat cancer that is diagnosed early. This is because it might be smaller and won’t have spread to other parts of the body. But finding some types of cancer early isn’t easy as there are very few symptoms
So, researchers are looking for new ways to spot these types of cancer. In this study they are looking at breath samples. 
Early research shows that cells inside the body make substances that end up in the blood and are breathed out from the lungs (exhaled). These studies point out that the substances might be different if someone has cancer. The researchers in this study plan to collect and analyse breath samples to see if the exhaled breath can detect cancer. They’ll compare samples from people who have cancer with people who don’t. 
The study is open for people who have are having tests at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  for one of the following types of cancer:

It also included people having tests for the following types of cancer but these groups are now closed:

The aim of the study is to find out if analysing breath sampling can detect patterns of substances that might help spot cancer early. 
Please note – you won’t benefit from taking part in this study. But researchers hope it might help people in the future by diagnosing cancer earlier. 

Who can enter

The following bullet points list the entry conditions for this study. Talk to your doctor or the study team if you are unsure about any of these. They will be able to advise you. 
Who can take part
This study is for people who are having tests for symptoms that could be one of the following types of cancer:
  • stomach cancer 
  • cancer of the foodpipe (oesophagus)

It was also for people having tests for the following cancer types but these groups are now closed:

  • kidney cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • bladder cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • liver cancer
As well as the above, to take part in the study, you must be at least 30 years old.
There are specific entry conditions for each cancer type. The study team will check these to see if you are suitable to take part.
Please note, the researchers are also looking for volunteers who are in general good health. They are also asking people who have cirrhosis of the liver Open a glossary item to join. 
Who can’t take part
You cannot join this study if any of these apply. 
Cancer related
  • can’t give the breath sample 
  • have had experimental treatment as part of a clinical trial in the 28 days before giving the breath sample
  • have given a tissue sample or had a test called an endoscopy Open a glossary item in the 48 hours before doing the breath test
  • have a type of cancer that doctors aren’t looking at in this study
  • have cancer that has come back (recurred) 
  • have had any other cancer in the last 2 years apart from basal cell skin cancer Open a glossary item, squamous cell skin cancer Open a glossary item, CIS Open a glossary item of the cervix that was successfully treated at least 1 year before joining this study
Medical conditions
  • have had a mild infection in the last 2 weeks or a major infection in the last 6 weeks that needed treatment in hospital, for example hepatitis B hepatitis C or tuberculosis
  • have lung problems such as cystic fibrosis or pneumonitis
  • have asthma or long term lung disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and you had treatment in hospital or had to take steroids in the last 6 weeks 
  • have severe kidney problems
  • have had a stay in hospital for symptoms that aren’t related to the tumour in the last 6 weeks
  • have HIV with a very low resistance to infection (a severe immune deficiency) 
  • have had lung surgery or a type of lung surgery called VATS or bronchial termoplasty 
As well as the main entry conditions, there are specific exclusion conditions for each cancer type. The study team will check these to see if you are suitable to take part.

Trial design

The researchers need 1,100 people to take part. The study is taking place at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. 

The breath test
The study team will ask you to perform a breathing test. This is quite easy to do. They’ll ask you to wear a special mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally for a maximum of 12.5 minutes. You might feel a slight wind blowing in your face as you breathe. 

During the procedure, a healthcare professional will check your breathing and whether you are comfortable. If you feel uncomfortable during the procedure you are free to stop it and consider continuing afterwards. You will be able to remove the facemask yourself or a healthcare professional will help you.

The mask is attached to small device that collects the sample. The study team will store your breath in 4 small tubes. They will send these to the laboratory to be analysed. 

ReCIVA breath sampler used to collect breath samples

Hospital visits

You have 1 hospital visit to give the breath sample. The research nurse will organise this appointment for you. It takes about 30 minutes. 
Before you give the breath sample, the study team:
  • ask about your medical history
  • check if you have any symptoms
  • ask if you take any medication 
  • ask if any of your close family members have ever had cancer 
  • ask if you are a smoker and time since your last cigarette
  • measure your height and weight 
  • ask what you had had to eat before the test
You then give the breath sample for 12.5 minutes. The study team might ask you to return for an additional three breath samples if you agree to this.

Side effects

There aren’t any side effects of having the breath test. However, having the face mask might feel uncomfortable as it covers the nose and mouth and may feel claustrophobic in a small number of people. The nurse should be able to adjust the straps, and this should help. You are free to stop the breath test at any time if it feels too uncomfortable. 



Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald

Supported by

Owlstone Medical Ltd 
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Cancer Research UK


Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Around 1 in 5 people take part in clinical trials

3 phases of trials

Around 1 in 5 people diagnosed with cancer in the UK take part in a clinical trial.

Last reviewed:

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