Our pets play an important role in our lives, providing companionship and affection that is not only healthy, but has been shown to help humans age more gracefully.
As it turns out, research is proving that our furry friends can be trained to do a lot more for our health than we initially thought. A study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association suggests that dogs possess a sense of smell capable of identifying cancers up to 97% of the time.
A dog’s sense of smell is up to 10,000 times stronger than a human, containing roughly 225 million scent receptors compared to five million for humans. The experiments may yield less invasive screening for cancer than PET or CT scans and prove to be more reliable than electronic nose technology. This is valuable for physicians attempting to treat cancer as early detection is an important factor for successful treatment.
What Breed of Dogs Can Smell Cancer?
The studies that have been conducted used scent hounds, specifically beagles, due to the fact they’ve been bred for the power of their olfactory senses. Typically used in hunting of small birds and game, it’s not hard to see how the beagle’s ability to smell could prove to be valuable. But beagles aren’t the only breed that have shown the ability to detect cancers, such as one famous case of a Siberian husky that spotted its owner’s ovarian cancer before her doctor.
The types cancer that dogs are able to detect is wide ranging and has been published in numerous studies. Cancer types detectable by the canine nose include breast, ovarian, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer to name a few.
How Do Dogs Sense Cancer?
According to BioScentDX, a medical canine scent detection company, dogs are able to smell small changes in our biomarkers, such as hormones, proteins and other organic compounds. Because of this, dogs are now being trained to help monitor conditions such as diabetes, narcolepsy and cancer.
Cancers leave traces behind in the form of odor signatures in a person’s body and bodily fluids. Cancer cells produce and release these odor signatures.
Researchers trained the dogs over eight weeks to not only smell cancerous cells but to communicate when they’re detected by sitting down. Once the training was done, the research team exposed the dogs to blood samples taken from individuals with lung cancer at the same time they were exposed to ordinary blood samples.
Other studies are underway using urine, fecal, skin and breath samples as researchers attempt to diversify the types of cancer that dogs can detect. BioScentDX, for example, is one of those companies attempting to use breath samples. Their website now markets a test which patients can administer for themselves. All they have to do is request a kit, follow the sample collection instructions and send it back to the company where it is analyzed by the dogs and results delivered within 15 days.
The potential for dogs to be used in cancer detection is significant due to their mobility, the fact that humans like them and that results are obtained quickly. While the canine sense of smell in cancer diagnosis is still an area of research that needs more exploration, it certainly shows promise for the future.