One amazing Labrador mix is able to sniff out cancer correctly 95% of the time.
Instead of being disappointed, her owners thought that if her nose was getting her into trouble why not train her to sniff out something useful?
For the next seven years, the Lucy learned to sniff out bladder, kidney and prostate cancer. She was even used in a study.
The amazing dog has detected cancer correctly more than 95% of the time over the years. That is actually better than some laboratory tests used to diagnose cancer.
Now, Lucy is part of one of the largest clinical trials of canine cancer detection called Medical Detection Dogs. The UK-based organization has eight dogs who sniff 3,000 urine samples from National Health Service patients to see whether they can determinewho has cancer and who doesn’t.
Claire Guest, the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, experienced her own dog’s ability to detect the Big C. Her fox red Labrador, Daisy, caught her breast cancer six years ago when she was 45.
“She kept staring at me and lunging into my chest. It led me to find a lump,” Guest recalls.”Had it not been drawn to my attention by Daisy, I’m told my prognosis would have been very poor.”
A dog’s powerful olfactory sense has 300 million sensors, compared with a human’s measly 5 million. Aside from that, dogs have a second smelling device in the backs of their noses called the Jacobson’s organ.Their double noses allow trained dogs to detect cancer’s unique odors, called volatile organic compounds.
In UK medical journal The Lancet, doctors at King’s College Hospital in London wrote about a woman whose dog persisted in smelling a particular mole on her leg in 1989. That mole turned out to be early-stage malignant melanoma.Over the next 26 years, researches from France to California to Italy have concluded that dogs really can detect the smell of cancer.
In a current study in Britain, researchers have set a particularly high bar. They want to make sure that the dogs are actually smelling cancer and not something else, like old age or a particular set of symptoms.
In this study, dogs will circle a carousel holding eight evenly spaced urine samples, one from a cancer patient and seven from patients who don’t have cancer. One of those samples will be from someone about the same age as the cancer patient who had symptoms of cancer but didn’t actually have the disease.
Guest’s group is running the study. She says that if studies like this continue to show the power of canine noses, dog might one day be used in conjunction with existing diagnostic tests, not instead of them.
The success of these studies could even lead scientists to design a machine – an “electronic nose” — that mimics a dog’s powerful smelling abilities.
“It’s very feasible,” Guest said.