Dogs have an acute sense of smell. This could prove useful in the medical world, as researchers are finding that dogs can sniff out cancer by detecting the markers of breast, colorectal, lung, and other types of cancer.
Humans have put dogs’ remarkable sense of smell to use by training them to sniff out explosives and narcotics. Their powerful noses can also detect viruses, bacteria, and signs of cancer in a person’s body or bodily fluids.
In this article, we look at the evidence behind dogs’ abilities to smell and identify different types of cancer, and how medical professionals can use dogs to help diagnose the condition.
Research suggests that dogs can detect many types of cancers in humans.
Like many other diseases, cancers leave specific traces, or odor signatures, in a person’s body and bodily secretions. Cancer cells, or healthy cells affected by cancer, produce and release these odor signatures. They
Depending on the type of cancer, dogs are able to detect VOCs in a person’s:
Dogs can detect these odor signatures and, with training, alert people to their presence. People refer to dogs that undergo training to detect certain diseases as medical detection dogs.
Trained dogs can detect some substances in very low concentrations, as low as parts per trillion, which makes their noses sensitive enough to detect cancer markers in a person’s breath, urine, and blood.
Research has shown that dogs can detect many types of cancer, such as:
For example, one
The doctor performed diagnostic tests and confirmed malignant melanoma.
Nobody had trained this person’s dog specifically to detect cancer. However, most research studies into canine cancer detection involve teaching individual dogs to sniff out specific cancers.
Scientists have found evidence that some dogs can detect colorectal cancer from people’s breath and watery stool with high levels of accuracy, even for early-stage cancers. The presence of gut inflammation or noncancerous colorectal disease does not seem to affect dogs’ ability to detect these cancers.
Dogs may also detect lung cancer from a person’s breath. One
The fact that trained dogs can detect cancer may have significant benefits for humans. Using dogs to support the detection and diagnosis of cancer is a low-risk, noninvasive method.
Medical detection dogs present few side effects and may offer advantages because they are mobile, can begin work quickly, and can trace an odor to its source.
They also have the potential for use in patient care settings or laboratories to identify cancer in tissue samples from people with suspected cancers.
Dogs’ abilities may also help with developing machines that can reliably detect odor signatures from cancer,
However, research is still underway and the effectiveness and reliability of canine cancer detection requires further investigation. Other areas for research include which breeds of dogs are most suited to detection and which kind of training will be most effective.
Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell, and some can detect the odor signatures of various types of cancer. Dogs have also shown they can detect colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma by sniffing people’s skin, bodily fluids, or breath.
Researchers are currently exploring the possibility of using specially trained medical detection dogs in diagnosing and tracking cancer.
Canine cancer detection is a simple, noninvasive procedure with potentially fewer side effects for people. However, further investigation is necessary to validate this method for use in clinical practice.