Known for being man’s best friend, could your dog save your life? It is often claimed animals have a sixth sense, however scientists are uncovering more evidence as to whether dogs can actually sniff out cancer in people.
Getting an early diagnosis of cancer gives people the best chance at successful treatment for the illness.
Could specially trained dogs help people get diagnosed earlier by sniffing out cancer before any symptoms appear?
It is said some dogs can detect the smell of peoples’ cancer in the early stages of the disease.
Dogs that can sniff out diseases aren’t your ordinary Rovers and Fidos though, they have to be specially trained to detect the smell.
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In the UK, charities like Medical Detection Dogs train these special animals to smell diseases.
The trained dogs are known as Bio Detection Dogs, and they’re taught to use their incredibly sensitive noses to recognise diseases.
Medical Detection Dogs said: “The dog’s nose is the best bio-sensor we know of.
“Our 2014 research indicated that our dogs were capable of detecting tiny traces (around one part per trillion – the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools) of the odour created by different diseases.”
Can dogs smell cancer?
Research into whether dogs can be trained to detect cancer is ongoing.
The idea dogs might be able to smell cancer was first published in The Lancet in 1989, after a woman went to the doctor because of her dog’s obsession with a skin lesion, which turned out to be malignant melanoma.
Since then, other people have come forward believing their dog had sensed something was wrong and later they had been diagnosed.
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While this evidence is anecdotal, the idea a dog’s super-sensitive nose could detect cancer is not that far-fetched.
A 2004 study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) explained: “Tumours produce volatile organic compounds, which are released into the atmosphere through, for example, breath and sweat.
“Some of these volatile organic compounds are likely to have distinctive odours; even when present in minute quantities, they could be detectable by dogs, with their exceptional olfactory acuity.”
This study was the first to evaluate how well dogs could detect bladder cancer, and found the dogs correctly identified bladder cancer from a urine sample 41 percent of the time.
According to the study, left to chance alone they would have only expected a 14 percent success rate.
This was described as “convincing evidence” dogs can sniff out cancer.
The charity Medical Detection Dogs is currently working on two clinical trials with the NHS, assessing its dogs’ ability to detect prostate and colorectal cancers.
More recently, bio-detection dogs have also been used to detect Covid.
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