Researchers from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology collected breath samples from 82 people from three groups: head-and-neck cancer patients, lung cancer patients and healthy people.

The team examined the differences in the molecules present in the exhaled breath of each group using tailor-made detection equipment NA-NOSE.

The team examined the potential for a future test to be developed to diagnose head-and-neck cancer and distinguish it from lung cancer.

They found the NA-NOSE was able to distinguish between molecules found in the exhaled breath of head-and-neck cancer patients and healthy volunteers.

It also distinguished between lung cancer patients and healthy controls, and between head-and-neck and lung cancer groups.

Technion – Israel Institute of Technology lead researcher Hossam Haick said there is an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head-and-neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations.

Cancer Research UK Cancer Information director Lesley Walker said the interesting initial results show promise for the development of a breath test to detect head-and-neck cancers which are often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

"But it’s important to be clear that this is a small study, at a very early stage, so many more years of research with patients will be needed to see if a breath test could be used in the clinic," Walker said.