If the trial is successful it is hoped cancers will be spotted earlier, saving lives and money for the health service.
Cancer could be diagnosed with a breathalyser test in future, scientists have revealed.
The Breath Biopsy device is being trialled in the UK and is designed to detect cancer signs in molecules exhaled by patients.
If the trial is successful, it is hoped cancers will be spotted earlier when they are more likely to be treatable, saving lives and money for the health service.
The first patients trialling the device are those with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
The hospital is recruiting 1,500 people for the two-year trial. Some will be healthy and others will be cancer patients.
It will later be extended to include those suspected to have prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers.
The airborne molecules collected in the test will be analysed in Cambridge and, if the device is proved to be accurate and reliable, it could become a common diagnostic tool for GPs.
Billy Boyle, co-founder and chief executive of British company Owlstone Medical, which is behind the device, said: “The concept of providing a whole-body snapshot in a completely non-invasive way is very powerful and could reduce harm by sparing patients from more invasive tests they don’t need.”
Lead investigator Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, said: “We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease.
“Through this clinical trial we hope to find signatures in breath needed to detect cancers earlier. It’s the crucial next step in developing this technology.”
Almost half of cancers are diagnosed at a late stage in England, according to government figures, and this is one of the main reasons why only 12% of oesophageal cancer patients survive as long as 10 years, for example.
Dr David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK, said: “Technologies such as this breath test have the potential to revolutionise the way we detect and diagnose cancer in the future.”