TIME Opinion

How Celebrities Helped Me Get Through Breast Cancer

When I was diagnosed at 40, Betty Ford, Betsey Johnson and Sheryl Crow stepped in

If you’re diagnosed with cancer and you live, you’re graced with a label that’s meant as an honor: “Survivor.” And yes, surviving cancer is a powerful experience that can enrich and embolden the rest of one’s days. But what of people whose lives are taken by the disease? Anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer knows well that people who die of cancer commonly display extraordinary determination, clarity, and grace. We don’t have a fitting term for those people — “victims” is not exactly empowering — and yet, as Breast Cancer Awareness month begins, their experience is just as worthy of being honored.

I took a crash course in these issues when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, at age 40, in 2008. Part of what I learned during that time came from close connections, especially those I found in a national group called the Young Survival Coalition, which provides support and information for younger women facing this diagnosis. At the same time, I also found a community somewhere less expected: with celebrities.

Before connecting with others dealing with the disease, I could immediately turn to the famous women whose experiences I had watched throughout the decades before. I thought of Betsey Johnson, who’d been diagnosed in 2002. She had apparently come through more fabulous than ever; I’d interviewed her a few years before and found her insightful, buoyant, and laughter-filled. I thought of Minnie Riperton, a musician I’d loved all my life. Her candor about her diagnosis earned her a spokesperson position for the American Cancer Society in 1977 and the ACS’s Courage Award, presented by President Jimmy Carter, in 1978. She ultimately died of breast cancer, at 31, but I remembered the impression she’d made on me when I was a child by communicating in public about her illness with honesty and grace.

The list goes on: Sheryl Crow and Christina Applegate emerged from their breast cancer treatments determined to help others who face the disease. Edie Falco was diagnosed at 40, in 2003; she later said that the way long-held wishes came to the fore in her life after cancer treatment encouraged her to adopt her children. Robin Roberts came out about her sexuality after she was treated for a blood disorder that appears likely to have resulted from the chemotherapy she received for breast cancer five years before. I also thought of photographer Linda McCartney, diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. In March of 1998, her face somewhat gaunt and her hair just growing back from chemotherapy, she nonetheless shone with pride at her designer daughter Stella’s fashion show. One month later, she died of the disease — but I will never forget the photos I saw of her that day and how she put herself, though very ill, in the public eye for an event she held dear, living on her terms till the end.

The impact these women can have on those fighting the disease out of the spotlight just goes to show how important it is that celebrities now feel free to speak out if they want to.

That’s where Shirley Temple Black comes in. When the former child star was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972, it was not only common for women to keep the diagnosis a secret from others, but also for their doctors to keep secrets from them: Doctors often told women they were having a biopsy when in fact a mastectomy was planned; the thinking was that a woman would not be able to handle the news in advance. Black, one of the first women in this country to speak publicly about her breast cancer diagnosis, expressed outrage at this practice: “The doctor can make the incision; I’ll make the decision,” she wrote in McCall’s magazine.

Just two years later, First Lady Betty Ford was diagnosed, mere weeks after her husband took the oath of office. TIME reported that she received what was then the standard surgery for breast cancer: a “radical mastectomy” that “removed the entire right breast, its underlying pectoral muscle, and lymphoid tissue in the adjacent armpit.” Today, less invasive surgical options are far more common, even when a mastectomy is performed. (Ford went on to commit herself to many causes, most famously helping to erase stigma from another illness she faced: addiction.) Within weeks, Happy Rockefeller, the Vice President-designate’s wife, had decided to learn from Ford’s example and perform a breast self-exam. She found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer; Ford was publicly credited with leading Rockefeller toward the diagnosis and what proved to be successful treatment.

The First Lady’s decision to be open about what was still a taboo topic — a frightening illness in a private part of the body — had paid off immediately. And I can attest that the trend she helped start, of sharing a breast cancer experience publicly, continues to make a difference.

These days, of course, one needn’t even be a global celebrity to have a broad impact. In mid-2010, I discovered the writings of journalist Mary Herczog, who had also been treated for breast cancer. I loved her warm, witty writing style; and I loved that she had decided to pursue a doctorate after her initial cancer treatments. I wanted to meet this remarkable survivor — but was devastated to learn that Herczog had died of breast cancer a few months before, at age 45. In a blog entry about a month before her death, Herczog acknowledged her somewhat unusual refusal to despair over terrible medical news. “Either there’s a whole lot of unavoidable bad coming at me,” she said, “in which case I don’t see the need to rush up and greet it, or I feel pretty swell, and I roll out with cookies and good books.” Words to live by, from one whose legacy will continue to survive.

As for what to call those who, like Herczog, were not themselves survivors, one of my friends from the Young Survival Coalition has a suggestion: call them by their names. That goes for boldface names as well as the names of beloved friends.

Meanwhile, whatever term you want to use for someone who had cancer and now shows no evidence of the disease, that’s what I am. And I carry in my heart others who touched my life while they faced the disease — those who survived and those who didn’t — even if I only ever knew them from a distance.

Read TIME’s 2013 cover story about the impact of Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: The Angelina Effect

TIME Cancer

The New HPV Vaccine Could Be 90% Effective

hpv image
Getty Images

An even more effective vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer, may be on the horizon, according to new research published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Merck announced that it’s investigating a 9-valent HPV vaccine that protects against nine total types of HPV—five more than the current one on the market.

The current vaccine, GARDASIL, also manufactured by Merck, is effective against 70% of cervical and other HPV-related cancers and protects against two of the main types that cause cancer—type 16 and 18—as well as two more that cause most cases of genital warts, types 6 and 11. The potential new vaccine, which isn’t named yet, will protect against approximately 90% of cervical cancers, says study author Elmar Joura, an associate professor of gynecology at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria (who received grant support, lecture fees and advisory board fees from Merck). It protects against the HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.

MORE: HPV Vaccine Cuts Rates of Genital Warts 61%

Coverage against those extra strains could be good news for women worldwide, as some races are prone to different types of HPV. In East Asia, HPV 52 and 58 are more common than in the U.S. or Europe, Joura writes in an email to TIME. “The good thing is that the nine valent vaccine will equalize these differences,” Joura writes. “The grade of protection will be the same worldwide.”

In the study, Joura and his team analyzed data from 12,514 women and found that of those ages 15-26 who had precancers, 32% had more than one type of HPV—that number was 19% for women between the ages of 24 to 45.

MORE: There’s a Vaccine Against Cancer, But People Aren’t Using It

The FDA is currently reviewing the vaccine, and Joura expects them to reach a decision by the end of 2014. “The vaccine will hopefully be available soon after,” he wrote.

TIME Cancer

Waist Size Linked to Breast Cancer, Study Finds

Trading in smaller skirt sizes for bigger ones is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, finds a new study published in BMJ Open.

But it’s what underneath the skirt—an expanding waist—that counts.

Research already suggests that gaining weight puts women more at risk for breast cancer, since fat tissue spurs the production of estrogen, which feeds the growth of breast tumors. The kind of fat around your waist seems to be especially telling: Some studies have found that waist circumference is better than BMI at assessing the risk for many conditions. In an attempt to give women an “easy to understand message,” researchers of this new study measured waist thickness by the number on their subjects’ skirt tags.

The study looked at data from about 93,000 mostly overweight, postmenopausal women in the U.K. Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer. After gathering various kinds of health data from the women—like general health, cancer status, and, yes, skirt size—for about three years, they analyzed the results.

An increase in skirt size was the single most predictive measure of breast cancer risk, the study concluded. When women went up a single skirt size over a 10-year span between their mid 20s and mid 60s, they were shown to have a 33% greater risk of developing breast cancer after menopause. Buying two skirt sizes up during that same period was linked to a 77% increased risk.

The size of your skirt might seem like a silly stand-in for measuring belly fat, but skirt size “has been shown to provide a reliable and feasible estimate of waist circumference at the population level,” the study reads.

Don’t get too married to the results, though. The study acknowledges that skirt sizing probably varied over the years, as any woman who’s ever shopped at more than one store can tell you. Forget changing skirt size in a decade—you can change skirt size in a minute if you just try a different store, so it should take more than a sudden switch from a 4 to a 6 to freak you out.

TIME Cancer

Senate Passes Bill for Better Sunscreen

sunscreen
Jupiterimages—Getty Images

A highly anticipated bill that could bring more sunscreen ingredients to market has passed

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to respond to current pending sunscreen ingredients within a shorter period of time — an important factor in ensuring that people have the most up-to-date ways to protect their skin from cancer-causing UVA rays, proponents of the legislation have argued.

While skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S., eight sunscreen ingredients have been pending in FDA backlog for years — some for over a decade — even while several of the pending ingredients have already been used in Europe and Asia for years.

As TIME reported in May, proponents for sunscreen modernization were optimistic that a bipartisan bill, the Sunscreen Innovation Act, would pass over the summer. The bill, which also requires the FDA to respond to all potential sunscreen ingredients in the future within a year and a half at maximum, moved along quickly through the summer months. A version of the bill was passed by the House in July. Now, the House and Senate will meet to agree on a final legislation of the bill. Once they reach consensus, it will go to President Obama to sign.

“The two bills are pretty darn similar, so we don’t anticipate the negotiation will be contentious,” says Michael Werner, policy adviser of the Public Access to SunScreens Coalition.

One of the reasons it takes so long for sunscreen ingredients to get approval in the U.S. is because of the regulation process that the FDA currently has in place. In Europe, ingredients are regulated as cosmetics, but in the U.S. sunscreens are go through a process similar to drug approval, which takes longer and has more safety requirements.

However, many ingredients had not received any feedback from the FDA, not even negative feedback, which prompted skin-care advocates and policymakers to question why the FDA had taken so long to respond, even given the excuse of a stringent system.

As the bill began to move through the voting process, the FDA started responding to some of the pending applications.

Read more of TIME’s coverage on the sunscreen bill here.

TIME Cancer

Our Global Cancer Report Card Is Here

In its annual cancer status report, the American Association for Cancer Research highlights new tumor-fighting drugs, and the inevitable spike in cancer cases expected in coming years

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved six new cancer treatments between July 2013 and July 2014, five of them representing innovative ways to target tumors more precisely with fewer side effects. Thanks to those therapies, and advances in understanding how the body’s own immune system can be co-opted into fighting cancer, patients diagnosed with any of the 200 or so forms of the disease have never been in a better position to survive it. In fact, the number of cancer survivors has increased nearly five-fold from when Congress declared a war on cancer in 1971 and 2014. But despite advances in diagnosing and treating cancer, incidence and death rates may start to rise again, say experts in a new report.

That’s in part because most cancers emerge in older age—and the population of people over-65 is expected to double by 2060. “We face a future in which the number of cancer-related deaths will increase dramatically unless new and better ways to prevent, detect, and treat cancer can be developed,” according to the 2014 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)’s Cancer Progress Report 2014. “These trends are being mirrored globally, and the number of people dying of cancer worldwide is expected to increase from 8.2 million in 2012 to 14.6 million in 2035.”

The (AACR), which has been compiling the report every year since 2011 as an educational tool to update Congress and the public on the progress and needs in the fight against cancer, also provided a “prescription” for addressing this coming wave, and for maintaining the momentum of recent victories against the disease. Noting that research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest funder of basic biomedical research that has contributed to many of the new anti-cancer therapies now on the market, are $3.5 billion lower than where they should be even if the funding only kept up with the rate of inflation for biomedical equipment and personnel, the AACR urges more federal investment in cancer research.

That money, they point out, can also be directed toward training the next generation of cancer researchers, since fewer grants are turning promising young scientists away from the field. They write:

We are now at a crossroads in our country’s long struggle to prevent and cure cancer; we must choose between two paths, but there is only one viable path forward to continue transforming lives.

On the viable path we seize the momentum at this exciting time in biomedical research by committing to budget increases for the NIH and NCI so that the remarkable progress of the past can continue at a rapid pace.

To take the alternative path is simply unacceptable. This particularly dangerous path leads us to a place where federal funding for biomedical research remains stagnant, or even worse, declines, seriously jeopardizing the rate at which we are able to make progress. On this path, breakthroughs and discoveries will be slowed, meaning that delivery of the cures that patients and their loved ones desperately need is delayed.

…Our federal government can do no better than invest robustly in the NIH and NCI so that the path forward will lead us to a brighter future for the millions of people whose lives have been touched by cancer.

TIME Cancer

Male-Pattern Baldness Linked to Aggressive Prostate Cancer

A specific kind of baldness is linked to aggressive prostate cancer, finds a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Researchers analyzed the self-reported hair-loss patterns from 39,000 men enrolled in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial and found that men who recalled having male pattern baldness—characterized by a receding hairline and thinning hair on the crown—at age 45 had a 40% increased risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer when they got older compared to men who weren’t balding. No type of baldness was linked to a higher rate of overall cancer, and male-pattern baldness was not linked to non-aggressive prostate cancer.

Michael Cook, senior study author and investigator in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, suspects the link is due to male androgens, or sex hormones. Testosterone and an androgen derived from testosterone, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), are linked to both male-pattern baldness and to the progression of prostate cancer, he told TIME. Genetics might also come into play. “There is some overlapping regions of the genome that may be implicated in both of these conditions, but it’s too early to say whether these are the exact same genes,” Cook says.

Up to 70% of men experience male-pattern baldness at some point, and men shouldn’t panic if they too experience hair loss. “You should not in any way be additionally concerned of your individual prostate cancer risk,” he cautions. “That’s because although these results are [interesting] and may indicate that there’s some central underlying exposure—which may be androgens—we cannot say that for certain.”

If you’re concerned, as always, talk to your doctor.

TIME tobacco

Here’s the Best Way to Get Someone to Quit Smoking

Antismoking messaging works differently depending on who's watching, a new study shows

For years, the U.S. government has gone back and forth about whether or not it’s legal to force tobacco companies to use images of cancerous lungs and other graphic pictures on their cigarette packaging. The assumption, of course, is that the images will terrify any smoker into kicking the habit.

However, a new study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research shows that the graphic tactic might not work on all smokers. The effectiveness of antismoking messaging depends on the attitude of the smoker.

Researchers from the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center studied 740 smokers to figure out what type of antismoking campaigns worked best. They discovered that messages that stress the benefits of quitting, like “quitting smoking reduces the risk of death due to tobacco,” were more effective at getting smokers to quit if those smokers thought that quitting would be very hard. The more graphic and negative ads like “smoking can kill you” tended to work best for smokers who thought they could quit whenever they wanted.

One of the reasons motivating messaging worked best among smokers who viewed quitting as a challenge could be that they’re already well aware of the health risks. On the other hand, the researchers speculate that loss-framed messaging — the kind that focuses on the negative consequences of continuing a behavior — worked better for smokers who felt they had more agency in their cessation because the negative ads built up motivation to stop.

Ultimately, the researchers believe that having a mixture of various messaging strategies is the best way to appeal to a broad range of smokers, and that currently there are far more negative messages than positive ones.

That’s not to say that scary ads don’t work. For a couple years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has poured resources into an intensive ad campaign called “Tips From Former Smokers” which features real former smokers who have experienced serious setbacks from their habit, like no longer being able to speak properly or having a baby too early. During past campaigns, the CDC has said that their quit lines experience 80% more activity when the ads are running compared with the weeks before.

Terrifying ads aren’t going away anytime soon, but mixing in more motivating messages might appeal to would-be quitters of all kinds.

TIME Cancer

Prediabetes Increases Cancer Risk By 15%

A new study published in Diabetologia shows a link between prediabetes–when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but don’t yet qualify as diabetes–and cancer.

More than one in three U.S. adults 20 years and over have prediabetes, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control report. Even more concerning, 90% of those affected don’t know they have it. And 15-30% of people with prediabetes will develop full-blown type 2 diabetes within five years, the report says.

The meta-analysis looked at 16 studies, including data from almost 900,000 people. Researchers found a 15% higher risk of cancer associated with prediabetes, especially in the liver, stomach, pancreas, breast, and endometrium. The association stuck even after controlling for body mass index (BMI), a risk factor for both diabetes and cancer.

However, prediabetes was not associated with an increased risk of cancer of the prostate, ovary, kidney, bladder, or lung.

The study authors speculate that the consequences of high blood sugar, like chronic oxidative stress and hyperglycemia, may act as carcinogens. And factors related to insulin resistance, a hallmark of diabetes and prediabetes in which the body becomes less able to use insulin to break down sugars, may cause cancer cells to proliferate.

“Although these results are unlikely to completely explain the epidemiological association between prediabetes and site-specific cancer,” they write, “they provide a new insight into a possible direct causal link.”

TIME Parenting

When Parents and the State Disagree Over a Child’s Medical Treatment

ASHYA KING
Five-year-old Ashya King is accompanied by his parents Brett, left, and Naghmeh King, right, on his arrival at the Motol hospital in Prague on Sept. 8, 2014 Filip Singer—EPA

A British couple prevails after a long fight for access to alternative medical treatment for their son, but the debate over parental rights goes on

It almost sounds like the plot of a dystopian novel: a British couple was arrested in Spain and thrown in jail after they took their 5-year-old boy, who has a brain tumor, out of a British state hospital to seek alternative treatment abroad. The wrenching case has unleashed an international debate over parental rights, medical ethics and who should have the final word when it comes to the fate of an extremely ill child.

The boy, Ashya King, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July. After a surgery to remove the tumor at Southampton General Hospital, in southern England, doctors recommended that Ashya undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy. (The hospital told TIME that with such treatment, Ashya’s survival rate was between 70% and 80%.) But Brett and Naghmeh King weren’t comfortable with the idea of chemotherapy and began asking the doctors about proton-beam therapy, which is believed to target tumors more precisely than radiotherapy and is thought to be less physically devastating than chemo. According to Brett King, Ashya’s doctor told him that the treatment “would have no benefit whatsoever.” Yet the Kings, who had researched proton-beam therapy and had contacted a clinic in the Czech Republic that offered the treatment, felt differently. So, on Aug. 28, the couple took their son from the hospital and traveled to Spain, in order to sell their property to raise funds to pay for Ashya’s treatment privately.

Unbeknownst to them, the British hospital then contacted the authorities and notified them that Ashya’s life was in danger without proper medical supervision and the Kings were nowhere to be found. (Brett King later said he had told doctors he planned to take his son abroad.) Britain’s Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) issued a European arrest warrant for the couple on suspicion of neglect and cruelty to a child. It wasn’t long before the Kings were found and arrested by Spanish police, while little Ashya was placed alone in a hospital near Málaga, without his family to comfort him.

The ordeal made headlines across the U.K., where a lot of emphasis was placed on the family’s beliefs (they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses), and more than 130,000 people signed an online petition calling for the boy to be reunited with his parents. It was three days before the couple was released and CPS dropped their arrest warrant. The hospital has also suggested that they would now support the family’s decision to seek proton-beam therapy for Ashya.

On Monday Sept. 8, the family was able to transfer the boy to Prague’s Motol hospital where doctors will assess his condition before a potential move to a proton-therapy center. But the family’s ordeal has set raised a spate of questions. How did this happen? How did this couple — who are, by most accounts, loving, devoted parents that only want the best for their desperately ill child — end up being pursued by the authorities in not one, but two countries and thrown in jail? Why did a small boy find himself alone in a foreign hospital without his parents or siblings to comfort him? It’s a murky, complicated case and, for many reasons, it’s not clear just where the blame lies.

Despite the international police search and the arrest of the worried, loving parents of a sick child, British authorities have now admitted that Ashya wasn’t facing much danger. Though the CPS’s spokesman insisted in a statement that at the time the arrest warrant was issued authorities were convinced that there was a “serious risk of threat to [Ashya's] life,” he also noted that investigators had later found that:

[Brett and Naghmeh King] did take certain steps to safeguard the health of Ashya, for example it appears they had ordered specialist foods to care for Ashya, and had managed to charge [his] food pump using their car battery. Also, evidence from two independent medical experts indicated that the risk to Ashya’s life was not as great or immediate as had been originally thought. Accordingly the necessary element of wilful neglect to support a charge of child cruelty could not be proved to the required standard.

As for University Hospital Southampton Trust (UHS), which runs Southampton General Hospital, they stand behind the decision to alert authorities about Ashya, saying in a statement that it was “in line with Trust policy.” Michael Marsh, the medical director at UHS, also said in a statement on Sept. 1, “We very much regret that the communication and relationship with the King family had broken down in this way and that for whatever reason they have lost confidence in us.”

It’s clear that there was definitely a breakdown in trust and communication between the Kings and the doctors. What’s less clear is how that breakdown occurred. For his part, Brett King has said, in a series of YouTube videos posted online, his son’s doctor didn’t appear to be willing to discuss alternative treatments. “He said, more or less, that if I questioned him in anyway regarding his treatment they would get an emergency protection order and take [Ashya] away from me.”

Peter Haughton, a senior adviser in medical ethics and law at King’s College London, tells TIME that in most medical cases, “the law and the ethics are very clear. Both the parents and the doctors have a duty of care [to act in the child's best interests] and the law backs that.”

But in this case, when the parents and the doctors weren’t seeing eye to eye about what was best for the boy, things spun out of control. Though Haughton maintains that the hospital was in line with “their duty of care” in alerting the police, he adds that it’s typically only when it “can be demonstrated that [the parents] aren’t acting in the best interest of the child that society steps in. One thinks of that [in terms of] neglect and those sorts of things, but this wasn’t neglect. This was actually the parents desperately trying to find the best treatment which they thought they were being denied.”

“Normally these things get resolved with a conversation, you find a common perspective,” he says.

Many have suggested that both the police and the hospital overreacted and stepped out of line. (Court disputes over the medical treatment of minors are rare in the U.K., let alone a full-flung police investigation.) Several high-profile figures have also spoken out in support of the Kings, with Prime Minister David Cameron going so far as to publicly state via a spokesman that he believed they were trying to “do the very best for” their son.

Others have suggested that prejudice might have played a part in the incident. Suzanne Moore, a columnist for the Guardian, wrote on Sept. 1 that the Kings “have been effectively criminalised for their distress. And possibly their faith.”

That’s a view shared by British author Ian McEwan, whose most recent novel, The Children Act, is about judge who has to decide whether to force a child to have a blood transfusion against the wishes of his parents, who happen to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. McEwan weighs in on the case in an interview with TIME, calling it an “almighty screwup” and adding, “I’ve got a strong suspicion that when the hospital and the police overreacted, it was influenced by the fact that the parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Though there was no indication that the Kings’ faith played any role in their decisions, the clash between doctors’ wishes and the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are generally not allowed to accept blood transfusions, has made headlines in the U.K. in the past. For their part, Southampton General Hospital denies that the King’s beliefs factored into their decision to alert the police.

Despite the arrest warrant being dropped, Ashya still remains a ward of the British court system and any subsequent decisions about his treatment must be approved by authorities. On Monday, Sept. 8, there will be a hearing in the U.K., where a judge will have the final say in Ashya’s course of treatment, if the Kings and the medical authorities are still in dispute. It seems likely that the Kings will be able to try proton-beam therapy in the end. But no matter the outcome, it’s hard not to feel that the intervention of the hospital and the state — all in the name of Ashya’s best interests — have worked against him and his parents all along.

— With reporting by Belinda Luscombe

TIME Cancer

Lung Cancer May Be Detected With a Thermometer

Detecting lung cancer may be as simple of taking the temperature of your exhaled breath, say researchers

In the continuing effort to find less invasive ways of detecting lung cancer, scientists from Italy announced that your breath’s temperature could be a giveaway of tumors within.

In a report presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress, Giovanna Carpagnano, from the University of Foggia, said that among 82 people who showed potential signs of lung cancer on X-rays, those who had confirmed lung cancer had higher breath temperatures than those whose readings weren’t as high.

While many factors could contribute to breath temperature, the team also found that the readings were higher the more the participants had smoked, and among those with later-stage cancer.

The findings need to repeated and confirmed, but efforts to find easier ways of diagnosing lung cancer that don’t require biopsies of lung tissue, are gaining ground. Scientists are also working on ways to identify specific chemicals that made by tumors and the odors they emit in the breath. “If we are able to refine a test to diagnose lung cancer by measuring breath temperature, we will improve the diagnostic process by providing patients with a stress-free and simple test that is also cheaper and less intensive for clinicians,” Carpagnano wrote in a statement describing the research.

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