If colon cancer screening were as easy as taking a breath, more people might do it. Now, a small pilot study suggests such a test could be developed.

The study, of 78 people with and without colon cancer, found that those with the disease tended to have a distinct pattern of chemicals in their breath. Researchers correctly identified the colon cancer patients 76 percent of the time.

The findings, reported online in the British Journal of Surgery, sound good. But if you're waiting for your doctor to offer such a test, don't hold your breath.

"It's an interesting concept, but this is in the very early stages," said Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancers for the American Cancer Society.

What's more, he added, there are already several good ways to catch colon cancer. Yet about 40 percent of Americans who should be getting screened are not.

The idea of using a breath test to catch cancer is not new: Researchers are looking into breath tests for detecting a number of cancers, including lung and breast tumors. It's all based on studies showing that breath samples from cancer patients tend to have a distinguishing pattern of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

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