A simple urine test might be the first step toward early bladder cancer detection and could reduce costly, invasive interventions for patients.

Bladder cancer is notoriously difficult to detect in its early stages, but scientists from the University of Liverpool and University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) have developed the first-ever early detector for bladder cancer in the form of a urine odor analyzer called ODOREADER. The device saves money and time by analyzing urine samples and detecting certain odors from gases that are emitted when a cancer-positive sample is heated.

Odors from urine samples could thus be the first biomarkers used to detect bladder cancer, which would help reduce the number of tests required to diagnose the condition, thereby saving money for patients and hospitals. Currently, a cystoscope—a slender tube with a light and video camera on the end, inserted into the body—is required to check for possible signs of bladder cancer.

“The primary benefits to patients are that this is a non-invasive test for bladder cancer, as at present patients with symptoms or who have high-risk occupations need to undergo cystoscopy,” Professor Chris Probert from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine told Healthline. “Second, all patients treated for bladder cancer need regular check cystoscopies, and this device could save them from those procedures. And third, there is a huge potential for saving money to the healthcare sector—that money could be spent on other conditions.”

The researchers already knew that dogs could detect odors emitted from gases in the urine of bladder cancer patients, but bringing canines in for testing would be problematic and impractical for hospitals.

Using similar principles, ODOREADER works by heating a bottled urine sample in a small machine and measuring levels of certain gases the sample emits. Thirty minutes later, the diagnosis shows up on a computer readout if the result is positive for cancer.

Of 98 urine samples the researchers tested, the device was able to correctly identify all 24 of the bladder cancer-positive samples.

As for bringing the device to market, “the present data needs to be reproduced in a larger series with a view to commercializing the technology,” Probert said. “We would be keen to talk to industry about the next step. In the meantime, we have good evidence that the device is stable and the performance reliable from other unpublished data.”