Lung cancer is the leading killer of Canadian men and women -- it's the deadliest cancer, because it's often detected too late.

But now the B.C. Cancer Agency is testing a new device that may help identify the disease early -- and all it takes is your breath.

"This will ultimately enable us to develop a practical, cost-effective screening program for lung cancer," said Dr. Annette McWilliams of the B.C. Cancer Agency.

Lung cancer is often diagnosed on a CT scan after a patient experiences significant symptoms. But by then it's often too late, because the cancer has already spread.

It's a problem the B.C. Cancer Agency researchers are determined to solve, with the help of a machine and a simple breath.

An electronic nose will collect breath samples, which will then be analyzed to pick up certain chemicals called "volatile organic compounds," or VOCs.

Cancerous tumours produce VOCs, so when the tumours are in the lungs, a patient may have a higher number or different pattern of these compounds in their breath.

"This new device, the seronose electronic nose, is really going to be our new sniffer dog to find early lung cancer in patients," said

"We collect one exhaled breath test from the patient and then we use the device to sample the breath test, and it has 32 different chemical sensor rays in the device that react with any volatile organic compounds," she said.

The test is easy, non invasive and inexpensive, and could help detect lung cancer at a much earlier stage.

Researchers hope to create a classification to determine a person's likelihood of having lung cancer.

Patients who have high concentrations of VOCs could then be referred for more extensive testing.

The group's study, which is funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, will collect samples from 800 patients over the next three years.

If it's successful, the electronic nose could revolutionize the way lung cancer is detected.

The study is looking for volunteers -- 400 healthy people between the ages of 45 and 79 who have smoked the equivalent of one pack a day for 20 years.

(That could mean two packs a day for 10 years, and so on.)

You can be a current smoker or a former smoker as long as you meet these criteria to participate.

For more information, call 604-675-8088, or 1-888-675-8001, ext. 8088.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Dr. Rhonda Low