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Can Dogs Sniff Out Cancer?

Your Best Friend May Save your Life

We already know that they can lead the blind, provide emotional support, and help the police crack tough cases. Yet man's best friend may be even more of an ally than we previously thought. A breakthrough study in 2011 confirmed what many scientists already believed: that dogs may be capable of smelling cancer.

A Study with Life-Saving Results

This research involved four specially trained dogs who were able to sniff out cancer in 71 out of 100 breath samples from lung cancer patients. They were also able to identify an impressive 91% of cancer-free samples, showing that they can smell the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous cells. These results are extremely interesting, because the dogs' accuracy rate was higher than the tests that doctors are currently using to detect lung cancer in patients! These highly trained dogs are known as bio-detection dogs, and they may hold the key to helping fight cancer. Using a reward-based training program and cell samples from local hospitals, dogs are taught to identify the difference between cancerous and non- cancerous cells.

Further Research

There has been a high interest in the medical community regarding bio-detection dogs. There was recently another story in the headlines about a British pensioner named Maureen Burns, who was alerted to a tumour that doctors hadn't yet discovered by her dog, Max. Max would jump up out of his dog beds to sniff her breath and nudge or bark at her right breast repeatedly, which turned out to be the location of the cancerous tumour. After this story hit the papers, many other individuals came forward with similar stories, which have led to an increase of medical research. A 2004 British study found that dogs could effectively identify bladder cancer in urine, while a 2011 study in Japan proved that they could sniff out colon cancer to an impressive 98% rate of accuracy.

A similar study was recently undertaken in Israel, to investigate this issue further. This research discovered that dogs can not only smell cancer on the breath of patients, but that they can smell specific cancer cells outside of the body. This study also concluded that different kinds of cancer share the same type of smell, as the dogs reacted in the same way to breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma. Although the exact compounds that create this distinctive smell have not yet been isolated, further research hopes to uncover what it is to train more dogs for diagnostic purposes.

What Else Can Dogs Smell?

Dogs have an amazing sense of smell, up to 100,000 times better than ours. This sense is put to good use beyond the medical world, and is often used in law enforcement. Dogs are trained to sniff out pirated DVD's in Malaysia and smuggled cell phones within American prisons, along with their use at borders to smell drugs. They can also be used to help eradicated bedbugs by smelling out these common pests in apartment buildings and other areas of infestation.

These amazing creatures are wonderful companions, but these studies show that they can also be true lifesavers. It's worth treating them right with a new set of accessories from in gratitude! Although more research is needed to isolate the compounds in cancerous cells that they are reacting to, in the future they may provide a less invasive, more accurate, and altogether cuddlier alternative to today's cancer screenings.