Breath methane to hydrogen ratio as a surrogate marker of intestinal dysbiosis in head and neck cancer

Head and Neck Cancer

Sci Rep. 2020 Sep 14;10(1):15010. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-72115-2.


Exhaled breath compounds can non-invasively detect head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Here we investigated exhaled compounds related to intestinal bacterial carbohydrate fermentation. Fasting breath samples were collected into 3 litre FlexFoil PLUS bags from patients awaiting a biopsy procedure for suspected HNSCC. Samples were analysed using a Syft selected ion flow-tube mass spectrometer and a Quintron BreathTracker. Two tailed non-parametric significance testing was conducted with

corrections for multiple imputations. 74 patients were diagnosed (histological) with HNSCC and 61 patients were benign (controls). The methane to hydrogen ratio was significantly different between cancer and non-cancer controls (p = 0.0440). This ratio increased with tumour stage with a significant difference between T1 and T4 tumours (p = 0.0259). Hydrogen levels were significantly higher in controls who were smokers (p = 0.0129), with no smoking dependent methane changes. There were no differences in short chain fatty acids between groups. Exhaled compounds of intestinal carbohydrate fermentation can detect HNSCC patients. These findings suggest a modified carbohydrate fermentation profile in HNSCC patients that is tumour stage and smoking status dependent.