Breath methane to hydrogen ratio as a surrogate marker of intestinal dysbiosis in head and neck cancer

Nuwan Dharmawardana, Thomas Goddard, Charmaine Woods, David I. Watson, Ross Butler, Eng H. Ooi, Roger Yazbeck

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Exhaled breath compounds can non-invasively detect head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Here we investigated exhaled compounds related to intestinal bacterial carbohydrate fermentation. Fasting breath samples were collected into 3 litre FlexFoil PLUS bags from patients awaiting a biopsy procedure for suspected HNSCC. Samples were analysed using a Syft selected ion flow-tube mass spectrometer and a Quintron BreathTracker. Two tailed non-parametric significance testing was conducted with corrections for multiple imputations. 74 patients were diagnosed (histological) with HNSCC and 61 patients were benign (controls). The methane to hydrogen ratio was significantly different between cancer and non-cancer controls (p = 0.0440). This ratio increased with tumour stage with a significant difference between T1 and T4 tumours (p = 0.0259). Hydrogen levels were significantly higher in controls who were smokers (p = 0.0129), with no smoking dependent methane changes. There were no differences in short chain fatty acids between groups. Exhaled compounds of intestinal carbohydrate fermentation can detect HNSCC patients. These findings suggest a modified carbohydrate fermentation profile in HNSCC patients that is tumour stage and smoking status dependent.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15010
Number of pages8
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

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  • Biomarkers
  • Cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Immunology
  • Oncology
  • Medical research


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