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May 24/31, 2000

Chemotherapy Breath Test

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JAMA. 2000;283(20):2646. doi:10.1001/jama.283.20.2646-JQU00003-4-1

A relatively simple breath test could prove to be lifesaving for some patients who receive cancer chemotherapy.

The test offers a new method of determining how rapidly patients metabolize docetaxel. In a study of 21 patients with cancer, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill first used several blood tests in a 24-hour period to determine how quickly the patients' livers cleared docetaxel. They then compared those findings with results from a breath test in which the researchers gave the patients a trace dose of erythromycin and measured the amount of carbon dioxide they exhaled. Rapid metabolizers of erythromycin exhale higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, and slow metabolizers exhale smaller amounts.

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