Volatile organic compounds as new biomarkers for colorectal cancer: a review

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Analysis of the volatile part of the metabolome (volatile organic compounds, VOC) present in the gas phase of excreted materials is a promising new screening tool for several cancers, including colorectal cancer (CRC). The VOC signature can reflect health status, like a ‘fingerprint’, and can be modified in several diseases. Technical difficulties still limit the widespread use of VOC analysis in the clinical setting, but this approach has already been applied successfully in the diagnosis of CRC. The present study reviews the available data on VOC present in the headspace (the gaseous constituents of a closed space above a liquid or solid) of blood, urine, faeces and breath as a potential screening tool for CRC. A systematic electronic literature search was conducted in PubMed, Scirus and Google using the following keywords: Metabolomic, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), Electronic-nose and Colorectal Cancer. Only articles published in English between 2000 and 2015 were selected and these were independently checked by two of the authors. Ten papers describing the reliability of VOC analysis in breath and faeces, blood and urine were selected; all indicated good reliability in detecting CRC. The use of different substrates and different analytical platforms has led to the identification of different patterns of VOC. The reliability of a metabolomic approach as a noninvasive biomarker for use in CRC screening is supported by this review despite several limitations due to the number of patients included in each study, the different analytical platforms and biological materials used and different VOC identified.

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