Can Your Pooch Detect Cancer?

From sniffing out where you’ve hidden their treats to helping government agencies to find narcotics, a dog’s sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than ours. A study found dogs could even detect cancer.

According to a paper published by Prof Julio E Correa at Alabama A&M University, a dog’s nose contains more than 220 million olfactory receptors (humans have only five million), making it their primary sense. It should come as no surprise, then, that people have been trying to understand how your pooch’s incredible olfaction can help society.

For example, diabetic assist dogs are trained to pick up on a specific scent found in human breath related to rapidly dropping or low blood-sugar levels. So why shouldn’t dogs be able to detect cancer as well?

It turns out they can.

Although this is an exciting development, there is still a lot of investigation to be done. Researcher and physician Klaus Hackner, at Krems University in Austria, has done a few studies on canine scent detection for the diagnosis of lung cancer; he has come across a fascinating pattern.

“While canine scent detection has shown promising results in lung-cancer detection, there has only been one previous study that reproduces a screening-like situation,” he notes in his latest study. “One main reason for the rather poor performance in our setting might be the higher stress from the lack of positive responses for dogs and handlers.” What many of us seem to forget is that dogs, much like humans, are emotional beings and reward-driven. Given that these cancer-detecting dogs were rewarded only if they found a sample with lung cancer, their anxiety levels would rise and they would be left greatly demotivated if there was nothing to detect. While this may seem like an impasse, it’s not – and Isabelle Fromantin, a science professor at the Curie Institute in Paris, proved it this February. She and Dr Séverine Alran have proved the efficacy of their breastcancer- detection project, KDOG. Thor and Nykios, the two detector dogs participating in the sample detection tests, achieved a 100% success rate.

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Given that the project was cost-effective and the dogs completed their training in only six months, the official clinical study will confidently launch next year.

“In developing countries, there are oncologists and there are surgeons, but in rural areas, often there is limited access to diagnostics,” Fromantin told the press in Paris. “This means that people arrive too late to receive life-saving treatment. If this works, we can roll it out rapidly.” A fair amount of research still needs to be done before we can ensure that this process can be undertaken on a professional level. However, researchers remain optimistic (and so do we), not only for the economic benefits, but for the chance to lower the cancer-related death rates in developing countries.

Read more about the study on the following link.