Scientists have developed a breath test that could help diagnose stomach cancers.

The test has a 90 per cent success rate at picking up chemical signals for cancer, compared with less serious stomach problems, according to a study.

It involves using sensors to detect very small particles of chemicals exhaled on breath, which are exuded from tumours.

Findings from a joint study by scientists in Israel and China, involving 130 patients, are published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Professor Hossam Haick, lead researcher from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, said the breath test could be an alternative to an endoscopy – the invasive procedure using a long flexible tube passed into the digestive system, which can be costly, time-consuming and unpleasant.

‘We’re already building on the success of this study with a larger-scale clinical trial,’ he added.

Around 7,000 people develop stomach cancer in the UK each year and most are in the  advanced stages when they are diagnosed.

Professor Haick said: ‘The nanomaterial breath test presents a possibility of screening for stomach cancer, which would hopefully lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease.’

Previously, research and anecdotal reports suggested dogs – usually Labrador retrievers and Portuguese water dogs – can sniff out bladder, skin, lung, breast and ovarian cancers.

As dogs have a sense of smell 1,000 times more sensitive than humans, they can pick up compounds specific to cancers.

It has long been hoped that cancer-specific compounds detected by dogs could be incorporated into a new sensor which could be used to test stool and breath samples as part of screening.

Kate Law, of Cancer Research UK, said ‘Only one in five people are able to have surgery as part of their treatment as most stomach cancers are diagnosed at stages that are too advanced for surgery.

‘Any test that could help diagnose stomach cancers earlier would make a difference to patients’ long-term survival.’