Cancer detection … And Mediterranean diet

Medical Minutes by John Schieszer


A new study is suggesting that a breath test might help detect stomach cancer in a much earlier and more treatable state. A test that measures the levels of five chemicals in the breath has shown promising results for the detection of cancers of the oesophagus and stomach in a large patient trial presented at the European Cancer Congress 2017.

Together, stomach and oesophageal cancer account for around 1.4 million new cancer diagnoses each year worldwide. Both tend to be diagnosed late, because the symptoms are ambiguous.  Subsequently, the five-year survival rate for these two types of cancer is only 15 per cent.

The new research included more than 300 patients and it showed that the test could diagnose cancer with an overall accuracy of 85 per cent. “At present, the only way to diagnose oesophageal cancer or stomach cancer is with endoscopy. This method is expensive, invasive and has some risk of complications,” said Dr. Sheraz Markar, an NIHR clinical trials fellow from Imperial College London. Dr. Markar said a breath test could be used as a non-invasive, first-line test to re-duce the number of unnecessary endoscopies. In the longer term, this could also mean earlier diagnosis and treatment, and better survival. The trial was based on the results of previous research that suggested differences in the levels of specific chemicals (butyric, pentanoic and hexanoic acids, butanal and decanal) between patients with stomach or oesophageal cancer and patients with up-per gastrointestinal symptoms without cancer. The new research aimed to test whether this “chemical signature” that seemed to typify cancer could be the basis of a diagnostic test.

Dr. Markar said because cancer cells are different to healthy ones they pro-duce a different mixture of chemicals. However, he cautioned that these find-ings must be validated in a larger sample of patients before the test could be available here on the Costa del Sol. The team is also working on breath tests for other types of cancer, such as colorectal and pancreatic, which could be used as first-line tests in general practice surgeries.


Grab a bottle of Rioja. This is worth toasting. A new study shows that old-er adults who follow a Mediterranean diet might retain more brain volume. However, contrary to earlier studies, eating more fish and less meat was not related to changes in the brain, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, and limited red meat and poultry. Researchers studied older adults over a three-year period who followed the Mediterranean diet.

“As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory,” said study author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Ed-inburgh in Scotland. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”

Researchers gathered information on the eating habits of 967 people (average age 70) who did not have dementia. Around age 73, 562 of the subjects had an MRI brain scan to measure overall brain volume, grey matter volume and thick-ness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. From that group, 401 people then returned for a second MRI at age 76. These measurements were compared to how closely participants followed the Mediterranean diet. Individuals who didn’t follow as closely to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have a higher loss of total brain volume over the three years than people who fol-lowed the diet more closely. The difference in diet explained 0.5 per cent of the varia-tion in total brain volume, an effect that was half the size of that due to normal ageing. The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, education and having diabetes or high blood pressure. The researchers also found that fish and meat consumption were not related to brain changes, which is contrary to earlier studies. “It’s possible that other com-ponents of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for this relationship, or that it’s due to all of the components in combination,” said Luciano.

John Schieszer is an award-winning international journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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