Dogs really are man’s best friend. Not only are they loyal, loveable companions but they could also identify the presence of cancer in your body, thus saving your life.
The first medical journey to publish evidence of a dog’s ability to recognise cancer was ‘The Lancet’ in 1989. Cancerous cells omit chemicals that release a different scent to healthy cells, humans cannot detect the scent but a 100,000 times more sensitive nose of a dog can. The journal reported on a border collie-doberman mix that began sniffing her owner’s mole, this strange behaviour prompted the 44 year old to visit her doctor. The mole was found to be early malignant melanoma.
A decade or so later, in the early 2000’s, British researchers investigated dog’s ability to distinguish bladder cancer in patient’s urine samples. 6 bomb detecting canines were trained to acknowledge the scent of bladder cancer, but unfortunately the research only had a 41% success rate.
A few years later California’s Pine Street Foundation, a non-profit cancer education and research group, investigated dog’s ability to identify breast cancer from breath samples. If the dog correctly identified the presence of cancer it received a treat. “Dogs are like people and perform best when they are given positive feedback” said Michael McColloch, PhD and director of research at Pine Street Foundation. The results were promising with a 92% success rate.
In fact even a dog trainer’s life has been saved. Dr Claire Guest, medical detection chief executive, was alerted to cancer by one of the dogs she worked with. “I was a bit bemused as to what she was doing, but I was subsequently found to have a very early stage breast tumour”. Now in remission Claire continues to train dogs to recognise cancer in breath samples.
Currently dogs are being trained to smell ovarian cancer; one of those dogs is Tessy. Tessy is a young Labrador retriever who was originally to be a guide dog but blindness in one eye took her career on another path. Pine Street and scientists from the University of Maine have 25,000 scent trials well underway.
The executive director of the Pine Street Foundation believes that in the near future women will be asked to give a breath sample which will be sent to a lab and analysed, possibly by our furry friends; dogs.