London: In what can prove to be a breakthrough in detecting cancer, a research team at Technion- An Institute of Technology in Israel has developed an electronic nose, which can sniff out malignant head and neck cancer tumours which are often hard to diagnose otherwise.

According to them, it picks up on microscopic chemical changes that are emitted in the breath of people with the two cancers, compared to those without the disease.

The Nano Artificial Nose has been tested on a small sample group but there are hopes it could one day be used as a routine test on the cancers, a daily reported.

Patients develop tumours of the head, neck, salivary glands and mucus membranes. These cancers are hard to spot early and are often not diagnosed until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

In fact, for their study, the scientists collected breath samples from 82 patients who had head and neck cancer, lung cancer, or were cancer-free.

Lead scientist Prof Hossam Haick said: "There's an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head and neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations.

"We've shown that a simple 'breath test' can spot the patterns of molecules which are found in head and neck patients in a small, early study. We now need to test these results in larger studies to find if this could lead to a potential screening method for the disease."

Experts have welcomed the findings published in the 'Journal of Cancer Research'.