Standard prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests for prostate cancer are far from ideal, sometimes resulting in unnecessary biopsies, and even failing to detect some cancers altogether. With the goal of developing a more capable alternative, a team of researchers has turned to a machine it calls the Odoreader, which is designed to analyze urine samples to provide a non-invasive prostate cancer test.

The new research is a collaboration between the University of Liverpool and the University of the West of England in Bristol. It focuses on a device called the Odoreader, which was used back in 2013 to detect bladder cancer by analyzing the odors in urine, with a 100 percent success rate.

The researchers believe that the device could significantly improve prostate cancer diagnostics, by offering a non-invasive test that's potentially much more accurate than existing methods. The machine, which is described as being " like an electronic nose," uses a gas chromatography sensor combined with specially developed algorithms to detect whether a patient has cancer from a single urine sample.

The gas from the urine sample travels along a 30-m (98-ft) long column inside the device, with the different compounds present travelling through it at different rates, breaking up the sample into a more easily readable format.

The researchers tested the machine on urine samples from 155 men. The Odoreader analysis diagnosed 58 of the men as having prostate cancer, 24 as having bladder cancer and 73 as having haematuria or a poor stream without cancer. This amounted to an accuracy of 90 percent for prostate cancer and over 95 percent accuracy for bladder cancer. Those numbers are significantly higher than other diagnosis techniques such as PSA testing, which is 65 to 75 percent accurate.

"If the test succeeds at full medical trial it will revolutionize diagnostics," said the North Bristol NHS Trust's Raj Prasad. "An accurate urine test would mean that many men who currently undergo prostate biopsy may not need to do so."

If a device that "sniffs" out prostate cancer sounds familiar, that's because we've seen studies take a similar approach before. In 2014, Finnish researchers used a machine called the ChemPro 100 to analyze gases directly above urine samples. Those results weren't quite as promising, with the machine accurately diagnosing between 67 and 78 percent of cases.

In light of the high accuracy of the Odoreader in the new study, the researchers are now looking to fund a full-scale clinical trial. The findings of the work are published online in the Journal of Breath Research.