Can dogs smell cancer in people’s breath?

Narrated from: General Info

Dogs are notoriously good at finding drugs – however, it turns out that they can also act as DOG scans!

There used to be a long running joke in the medical community: that a dog’s sense of smell is so developed, that trained dogs would be able to sniff out early signs of cancer. For over two decades doctors mused over the idea, never actually taking it seriously enough to test it.

However, in recent years the theory was proved in practice.

The practice

When there is a cancer growing inside one’s body, the infected cells produce different metabolic waste than healthy cells. This causes slight modifications in the smell of one’s breath or, well, urine. The change is absurdly microscopic of course, and a human would never notice – but a dog’s sense of smell is generally from 10 000 to 100 000 times better than a human’s!

In the USA, five ordinary household dogs were trained to spot “cancer scent” with a simple technique based on food rewarding. The dogs showed incredible results in detecting breast and lung cancer – between 88 and 97%!

Later on, researchers from Japan claimed that they have trained a Labrador Retriever to sniff out bowel cancer. They claimed that the dog did better than conventional tests in identifying people with colorectal cancer.

In 2011, Germany too tested the sense of smell of dogs. Several trained dogs managed to identify correctly 71 out of 100 cases of lung cancer, from more than 300 people subjected to the test. It was also proven that side factors, such as tobacco smoke, did not trouble the dogs.

Conclusions and impact

There are several ways in which a dog’s’ unique sense of smell may aid the battle with cancer.

Every dog enthusiast pictures trained dogs standing watch in every clinic, ready to check any patient much faster and more reliably than a machine; of course, this is a rather whimsical theory, as there is very little chance that enough hospitals would have the finance and patience to adopt and train a sniffer dog. Still, many doctors probably wouldn’t mind having a canine buddy in the office!

However, it is believed that technology will be developed to mimic a dog’s sense of smell, and to recognize the scent of cancer. Basically, the cancer-testing apparatus would serve as a giant dog nose. Perhaps even now a machine that will detect cancer early enough is in development – such a detector might even be used during routine examinations just to ensure the patient that everything is alright.

Finally, there is a possibility that the training techniques will be developed in a way to allow people to train their own dogs – sort of an early alarm in home. There are many households with dogs, and many breeds will probably be up for the task of keeping cancer watch.
The impact of the dogs’ technique of sniffing out cancer will be tremendous.

The detection of cancer at an early stage is crucial, since many types of cancer are treatable if caught on time. So, thanks to man’s best friend, many lives could be saved!

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