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Sniffing Out Cancer

Anecdotal evidence that the ultra-sensitive noses of dogs can detect subtle olfactory signs of cancer abound, such as the story of a dog that kept sniffing a spot on a man's arm until he went to have it checked out -- only to find it was malignant melanoma. It turns out that these anecdotes reflect more than coincidence: researchers in San Francisco and Poland have run extensive tests showing that dogs can detect cancer by scent alone, even by smelling the breath of patients.

In this study, five household dogs were trained within a short 3-week period to detect lung or breast cancer by sniffing the breath of cancer participants. The trial itself was comprised of [sic] 86 cancer patients (55 with lung cancer and 31 with breast cancer) and a control sample of 83 healthy patients. [...] The results of the study showed that dogs can detect breast and lung cancer with sensitivity and specificity between 88% and 97%. [...] Moreover, the study also confirmed that the trained dogs could even detect the early stages of lung cancer, as well as early breast cancer.

The implications here are multifold: the potential for an extremely inexpensive, highly-accurate, non-invasive test for cancer; stimulus for tests of canine ability to smell subtle clues of other diseases; and an indication that there are detectable levels of molecular signs of early stages of cancer, with the possibility of engineering sensors that could be even more accurate and sensitive than dog noses.

Comments (3)

Daniel Haran:

Sensors and early diagnosis are wonderful, although I'm wondering if it could be used to track the disease's progress. If the effectiveness of less invasive treatments was evaluated in mere days for a specific patient, a lot more experimentation becomes possible with a lot less money.

lisa ponke:

i totally agree with this info. i had brought home a dog from work, i could not find owner so i kept him. my mother and i live together in the same house,im gone all day so he spends alot of time with her. she started noticing every night when she would sit down to get undressed the dog(tucker)would be right there,always smelling her left breast, he never tried or even attempted to smell any other part of her body.we laughed and didnt think anything about it.she went in to have her first mammagram at 63,(not because of the dog)but because the dr ordered it.she did have breast cancer. this story interest me because earlier in the year i had read an article about scientist doing a study on dogs, and having them smell urine of people with bladder cancer and how they detected cancer in the urine,and when i heard that story it made me think of tucker and what he did,because after she had her surgery to have her breast removed, he never smelled or bothered her when she was undressing. i hope they continue with this study. thanks lisa ponke


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