Does Cancer Have a Scent? Dogs Say Yes

It may seem like science fiction but the next great discovery in the war against cancer may just be man’s best friend. German researchers from Schillerhoehe Hospital published a study in the European Respiratory journal entitled Canine scent detection in the diagnosis of lung cancer: Revisiting a puzzling phenomenon.

In the study, 220 volunteers, some of whom had confirmed cases of lung cancers, some with COPD and some healthy individuals donated exhalation samples which were then sniffed by the dogs. This was done under very strict protocol. The accuracy factor was over 70 percent which is too high to be a coincidence. While it is obvious that some dogs have the ability to detect the scent of cancer, how is it possible?

The fact that dogs have a much more sensitive sense of smell than humans is a known fact. Their ability to smell may be as much as 100,000 times more sensitive than their masters. This information has been put to good use in airports and other places where canines are used to detect bombs, explosive materials and of course drugs. When it comes to cancer, dogs are able to identify the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are linked to the presence of cancer.
The November 16, 2011, issue of Mail Online features a story by Jenny Stocks of British pensioner Maureen Burns, who made headlines when her collie-cross Max started sniffing her breath and nudging her right breast where it turned out she had a tiny cancerous tumor developing that doctors hadn’t yet picked up. This is not an isolated case, sniffer dogs are being trained to help doctors in their fight again several different forms of deadly cancer. Work has been done with both lung and bladder cancer. It is expected to be expanded to prostate cancer in the near future.

The dogs are trained from the time they are puppies. Most of them are either rescue dogs or are donated by breeders who are interested in the program. Dogs that enjoy hunting are particularly well adapted to this sort of training. Their training is done in a pretty traditional manner where they are first trained to respond to voice commands.

Sometimes between the ages of 14 to 16 months old the dogs are ready to go on to more vigorous training. In the earliest tests, the dogs were less than 60 percent accurate. It was found that like many people, they responded very well to an increase in their reward. Using a clicker and a treat, they were basically trained what smell to recognize and in an increasing number of cases, they are able to do just that.

Over the long haul, the dogs will probably be replaced with a machine that can do what they do, detect cancer with the smell. For the present, the dogs are a great asset when it comes to early detection of cancer.

Further information:

European Respiratory Journal

Mail Online Article

Photo credit : Pixabay katja dogs_1422930622.jpg CCO

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  1. TheBrit
  2. MaryO

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