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.


keda said…
how amazing! the question is though how quickly they can detect it.... i'll try to read the article later tonight.

katie couric's ok- i don't see to much of her being a brit and living in turkey, but she's a bit too chirpy for my liking.... i like 'em a bit dour or i don't really trust them for some reason.

brockaw and all those square faced robotic lookibg surgery blokes also freak me out... i'm off to investigate and google news presnters in the uk and us and see if i can form an opinion!

its nice to be back. here via michele today*
Paige said…
I heard of this many years ago. I'm glad some one is still doing research on it. What an easy friendly way to find cancer!
Robin said…
I hope this isn't true, if where most dogs sniff when I meet them is any indicator ;) However, this makes a lot of a nurse, I know that I can smell renal failure, Staph, and Clostridium a mile why NOT Cancer? I know that Holistic practitioners also use smell as a diagnostic tool...smelling pulse points, breath and whatnot. I'm here from Michele's today...thanks for another informative post, Utenzi...I always learn something when I visit you!
This is very interesting. I do believe our faithful companions do more for us than we even realize.
Here from Michele's!
Tara said…
I was reading years ago about dogs that sniff infections and detect seizures in advance. And both of my dogs have known when I was preggo and acted oddly. So I can definately see cancer sniffing dogs for the future. The real trick would be to get cats to do something like that for us.
Here from Michele's today!
Ciera said…
Interesting. A little wierd, but if it saves's probably worth a little wierdness. I mean, it's all I'm gonna be thinking of from now one when Mitzi is smother me before I even get in my friends doorway!
Karen said…
Dogs are really more amazing than we realize. I have a golden retriever and she can pick up on every emotion I have. I don't appreciate her as much as I should!

Here via Michele's. Have a great weekend!
Amanda said…
Very interesting post. Dogs really are interesting creatures...

Here from Michele's
Tammy said…
An interesting study...let's hope they continue to research this.

Visiting via Michele today. :)
srp said…
I wish the dog could smell cancer on another dog. My Max has lymphoma of the skin. It is analagous to Mycosis fungoides in humans as it goes through a prolonged rash stage before the nodules form. Hard to diagnosis in humans with a skin biopsy in the early stages, never mind a dog.

Anyway, Mt. Trashmore is really nice now. They have built a great park with wooden forts, swings, bridges and all that great equipment for kids, have a picnic area, fly kites from the top and they built a skateboard park with ramps at one end. Around the lake are the ducks and geese... always. People still feed them even though they have signs posted prohibiting this. We live about a mile from there.
knitti-me said…
Facinating. My dog is too oblivious to detect anything - ah well - she's good for loving.

Here from Michele's.
I've read about this awhile's amazing!

Hi, Michele sent me :-)
Diane Mandy said…
I hadn't heard of this before. Fascinating. Maybe this is another reason I need to give mt sister's cat back, ya think?
Ann said…
I believe that humans probably had the ability to smell sickness, and mood changes in others, way back before we started messing things up with our man-made chemicals and stuff.
Robin is right, I remember being able to note smell changes in my patients when they had different diagnosis, and I will never forget the smell in some of my cancer patients.

No wonder dogs are man's best friend!
kenju said…
One can only hope that the necessary testing will get funded soon.
kenju said…
Michele sent me back this morning, Utenzi, and I still think the same thing!
Linda said…
I am sure it's all true...dogs are amazing and can tell when there's illness in general...why can't they tell if someone's got cancer?

Michele sent me today!
Jean-Luc Picard said…
How interesting. I have never heard about this.

Michele sent me here.
rashbre said…
Dogs are supposed to have a sense of smell 1,000 to 10,000 times that of humans (something I can't really imagine). It seems very probable that they could use this to good effect, and I'm certain dogs 'test' the breath of their owners as a type of rapid diagnostic.

Here today via Michele's!

Nienke said…
I've read that dogs not only have an intensely greater sense of smell, but that they have an incredible capacity to analyze the smells as well. I think part of the variables in the conclusions of the tests are also based on training, etc. Perhaps dogs sense levels or factors that we haven't even considered!
Michele sent me.
Hope you're having a great weekend!
Nikki-ann said…
Wow, I hadn't heard anything about that before.

Enjoy your weekend.

Here via Michele's :)
Ravvy said…
extremely interesting stuff!!!!!
we had that shown here in Australia a lil while ago now but no matter how many times they show it i still find it the most interesting thing!

Another interesting thing is that what Michele has created in her site has made so many ppl come visit so many other sites...!

i hope your weekend is just lovely! and keep up the great work Utenzi!!!
Pearl said…
Oh, that's an adorable nose-shot. I can nearly smell dog. :-)

I had thought, or got in my head that the cancer or benign spot sniffing had had further substantiating than that. It makes intuitive sense to me that dogs could do this given how many particles/million they can detect, and that they already do search and indicate. let's hope it keeps developing into something clinically useful.
Terri said…
Hi..from Michele's.
I'd read about these studies and I absolutely believe dogs are capable of much more than us humans can begin to understand, so I certainly feel they would be able to detect cancer.
kristal said…
Wow, very interesting post. I hadn't heard of this before, but if they can sniff out drugs and scent trails it makes sense that they could smell sickness.

Michele sent me!
lisa said…
What is up with the dog posts today? They are every where. Mine's not so educational.

Casper can sniff out poems waiting to be written, that counts as an advancement for humanity too, right?
Carmi said…
Yet another reason why dogs truly are humans' best friend. Yet another reason why I so very much want to bring one home.
Gypsy said…
I've heard about this before, and it's so fascinating. I've also heard of dogs being able to tell when their people need to take medicine for heart problems. What an amazing boon this would be. Another reason to cherish dogs.

Thanks for the info!
That is pretty incredible. I'd never heard this before, but dogs never cease to amaze me in some of the things they are capable of.
Michelle said…
I remain a skeptic till i actually review the stats.
Claire said…
These stories haven't made it over here yet so this is the first I've heard of it. Very interesting stuff.
choccycherry said…
Hi I'm here from Michele - your blog is very interesting!
choccycherry said…
Hi - I'm here from Michele's!
Sandy said…
My dog may have a lot wrong with her lately, but her sense of smell is not one of them. Love that close up photo of the canine nose.

Michele sent me.
kenju said…
Michele sent me back, yet again...LOL.

I really do hope they can train dogs to sniff out all sorts of diseases. I think they would be cheaper than all the lab work, cat scans, etc. that are used now.
Karen said…
I love that photo of the dog's nose. Very cute.

Back again via Michele's. Hope you're having a great Sunday!

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