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Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014 Jul;12(7):1085-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2014.05.005. Epub 2014 May 10.

The scent of colorectal cancer: detection by volatile organic compound analysis.

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Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Department of Pediatric Pulmonology, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The overall metabolic state of an individual is reflected by emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are gaseous carbon-based chemicals. In this review, we will describe the potential of VOCs as fully noninvasive markers for the detection of neoplastic lesions of the colon. VOCs are detected by our sensory olfactory nerves and form the molecular basis for our sense of smell. As such, we emit our own individual odor fingerprint or so-called smellprint. This may change over time in response to any alteration in metabolism such as modifications caused by gastrointestinal infection, inflammation, external factors such as medication and diet, or development of neoplastic disease such as colorectal cancer. This means that analysis of VOCs can provide a fully noninvasive metabolomics biomarker profile that could be used as a diagnostic tool. Thus far, canine scent detection, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and electronic nose technologies allow for discrimination between patients with and without colorectal cancer and also its precursor (advanced adenoma) with promising accuracy. The challenge for future research is to identify specific biomarkers driving these signals. This enables the development of primed sensors tailored toward accurate identification of volatiles specific to colorectal cancer and adenomas. Such a technique may allow noninvasive monitoring of response to therapy and could revolutionize screening practices for colorectal cancer and potentially many other gastrointestinal diseases.


Adenoma; Canine Scent; Colorectal Cancer; Electronic Nose; Flatography; Screening; Volatile Organic Compounds

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