An “electronic nose” designed to test patient breath samples for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) linked to different diseases was able to correctly identify lung cancer in smoking and non-smoking participants, according to findings presented earlier this week at the 2013 European Respiratory Society Annual Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Researchers from the University of Latvia collected exhaled breath samples from 252 lung cancer patients, 223 patients with different lung diseases and healthy volunteers, 265 non-smokers and 210 smokers.

The researchers found that in non-smokers, the electronic nose correctly identified 128 as having lung cancer and only misdiagnosed 5 people who didn’t have cancer. In the group of smokers, the electronic nose correctly identified 114 people as having lung cancer and misdiagnosing 5 people with lung cancer.

While researchers have yet to identify which VOCs are linked to different diseases, they believe the study demonstrates the feasibility of the concept.

“The major problem with electronic nose technology is that it is individual, and each piece of equipment must be trained to distinguish between odors,” said lead author, Maris Bukovskis, from the University of Latvia. “This causes a problem of standardizing the practice between different centers. The next step will be to test the practice between different centers to help us think about how we can ensure consistency between all the results.”