Close-up of a dog's snout.
Cancer sniffing dogs may make cancer detection more efficient. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Scott Akerman/Flickr)

According to a study by German researchers in the latest European Respiratory Journal, dogs can be trained to smell lung cancer on human breath. This method reportedly produces fewer false positives than CT scans. It also confirms to medical science that there is a stable marker for lung cancer.

Cancer sniffing dogs change cancer detection

The canine sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of human beings. While humans have approximately 5 million olfactory receptor cells inside the nose, dogs have more than 220 million. This makes canines ideal weapons against cancer, suggest researchers. By training dogs to detect lung cancer by sniffing a patient’s breath, scientists can get a jump on treating the deadly disease.

Time magazine notes that the study conducted by Dr. Thorsten Walles of Schillerhoehe Hospital in Gerlingen, Germany, used only four dogs (two German shepherds, a Lab and an Australian shepherd), but the dogs were able to successfully detect lung cancer in 71 out of 100 breath samples. Ninety-three percent of cancer-free samples were identified, too, meaning that the rate of false positives diagnosed by the dogs was lower than those returned by CT scans.

Walles noted that a cancer sniffing dog’s relatively primitive ability to communicate with humans will make communicating specific types of cancers detected difficult.

How the experiment worked

In the Schillerhoehe study, lung cancer patients breathed into glass tubes that contained fleece to capture the odors of the specific organic compounds scientists theorized were associated with the onset and progression of lung cancer. The study dogs were reportedly able to tell the difference between patients with lung cancer and those with other pulmonary diseases.

“Our results confirm the presence of a stable marker for lung cancer,” wrote Walles. “This is a big step forward in the diagnosis of lung cancer, but we still need to precisely identify the compounds observed in the exhaled breath of patients.”

Similar studies with cancer sniffing dogs have had as high as 90 percent success at detecting bladder and colon cancer, as well as detecting low blood sugar levels among diabetics.

Cancer sniffing dog in Japan

Sources

Alabama Cooperative Extension System: http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/U/UNP-0066/UNP-0066.pdf

European Lung Foundation: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-08/elf-sdc081611.php

Schillerhoehe Hospital: http://www.rbk.de/standorte/klinik-schillerhoehe.html

Time: http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/18/a-new-way-to-detect-lung-cancer-dogs-can-sniff-it-out/

WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/lung-cancer/news/20110817/dogs-use-their-noses-to-detect-lung-cancer

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