Diagnosing mesothelioma at the earliest possible stage is crucial to minimising a patient’s often long and arduous treatment procedure, achieving a successful outcome and extending prognosis with a better quality of life.

In too many instances, a lack of asbestos awareness and failure to recognise the first asbestosis symptoms or signs of mesothelioma are because of a close similarity to other types of common ailments, such as influenza, bronchitis, or respiratory conditions involving coughing, shortness of breath, chest or stomach pains. If the victim is elderly and / or there is a history of smoking, further confusion may arise.

The long latency period of up to 50 years from first asbestos exposure when the lethal fibres were inhaled to permanently embed in the linings of the lungs means, that on many occasions diagnosis is only confirmed when the disease has spread to an advanced stage and survival rates are likely to be no more than 6 months to a year. Patients and their close family have three years from diagnosis to pursue a claim for mesothelioma compensation.

Avoidance of aggressive invasive surgery has always been a desired objective in the attempt to find methods of early mesothelioma diagnosis. One area of endeavour has been in the study of techniques developed to measure exhaled breath.

Latest research involves an ‘electronic nose’, a handheld device containing a 32-sensor chip, which can recognise a wide range of molecules with odorous properties from over 3,000 unstable organic compounds present in exhaled human breath. An unique olfactory profile of each chemical compound can be built up relating to a particular disease.

A study of both diagnosed mesothelioma patients and those confirmed as having been exposed to asbestos were tested alongside a ‘healthy’ control group. Both the first results and a second set of measurements taken of the molecular pattern of exhaled breath suggest that the sensor device could be used to accurately provide an easier and more accurate method of early mesothelioma diagnosis.

The electronic nose was clearly able to detect a difference between the mesothelioma patients and those who had been exposed to asbestos with an accuracy of over 90 per cent. Mesothelioma patients were also differentiated from the healthy control group.

Recent estimates state that between 1968 and 2010, the total number of deaths from all diseases caused by asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos-related lung cancer, could be over 110,000. Currently, over 2,000 diagnosed cases of mesothelioma are recorded each year in the UK, and the Health & Safety Executive( HSE) predict that 5,000 people will die from asbestos exposure each year by 2015.