dogs and cancer
Like the old commercials for Fruit Loops, a Kelloggs' breakfast cereal, would say: "A nose, it always knows". While that commercial was referring to Toucan Sam, I'm just using this as a lead in to talk about how sensitive dog noses are and how they can be used, perhaps, to detect cancer.
There have been a number of mentions of this in the media recently. Here's two items from CBC news this year. One story that ran on 60 Minutes and another from the Early Show.
Both of these stories refer to a study run by Dr. Bob Gordon of the Scripts Clinic in La Jolla which used urine samples of cancer patients and healthy people to determine how well dogs could detect differences in odor between the two.
That study resulted in the conclusion that a trained dog could detect cancer to a degree that was 3 times greater than could be accounted for by mere chance. Pretty good but not great.
A much more interesting study has been just released:
In the small world of people who train dogs to sniff cancer, a little-known Northern California clinic has made a big claim: that it has trained five dogs -- three Labradors and two Portuguese water dogs -- to detect lung cancer in the breath of cancer sufferers with 99 percent accuracy.
Here's a "printer version" of that article from the NY Times that I excerpted above.
While this is still controversial and hasn't been confirmed, it would be an amazing advance. Dogs vary quite a bit in their ability to differentiate between odors so not all dogs could be trained to do this--but the ones that can could be quite a boon to detecting cancer in humans--and any other species as well.
<<-- Some of those nasty old cancer cells that dogs can smell.
There's been a huge body of evidence over the years that dogs can sniff out cancer but it's been anecdotal. Just a few people here and there that have had checkups because their dogs keep sniffing at a body part---usually women's breast--and calling attention to it.
These have certainly made people curious about how well dogs can detect the volatile compounds created by cancer cells but there's been no definitive study that confirmed this ability in dogs. Maybe this study by Michael McCulloch, research director for the Pine Street Foundation in Marin County, Calif will finally do it.