A breath-test that they can accurately tell if a person has bowel cancer has been developed.
The test, which looks for exhaled chemicals linked to tumour activity, was able to identify a majority of patients with the disease, a team from a hospital in Bari, southern Italy, reported in the British Journal of Surgery.
The current screening test for bowel cancer looks for signs of blood in the faeces, but only a small proportion of those who test positive actually have colorectal cancer, which means unnecessary and invasive further testing for many people.
The breath-test technology relies on the idea that the biology of tumours can lead to the production of specific "volatile organic compounds", combinations of chemicals unlikely in a healthy person.
These can be found in small amounts in the breath of the patient, and early studies found dogs could be trained to identify them - although the latest study relies an electronic device to analyse breath gases.
The researchers compared the breath of 37 patients known to have bowel cancer with that of 41 "controls" who were thought to be healthy.
The initial test identified the cancer patients with 85 percent accuracy, and although, when combined with a follow-up test, the overall result fell to 76 percent, the researchers were upbeat about its potential.
"The present findings further support the value of breath-testing as a screening tool," the BBC quoted the researchers as saying.
It might be possible that the technique could help identify patients whose cancer was returning after treatment, they stated.
Dr Donato Altomare and colleagues noted that bigger studies with a greater number of patients are needed to confirm it.
However, another scientist said it was unlikely a fully functioning and reliable breath-test would be available soon for the general public.
Dr Claire Turner, a lecturer in analytical chemistry at the Open University, said "These technologies show a great deal of promise, and hopefully we will see larger studies in the future. However, we are unlikely to see this kind of breath testing available widely in the short term." (ANI)