Cancer-Sniffing Dogs?

Dogs have long been hailed for their noses, being used to sniff out bombs, drugs and everything in-between.  While humans have about 5 million different olfactory cells in our noses that detect different odors, dogs have approximately 200 million.  However, is it possible that dogs can sniff out prostate cancer as well?  According to a recent study published by Italian researchers, presented at the 109th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association in Orlando, specially trained dogs were able to detect prostate cancer from urine samples with an astounding 98% accuracy.

Cancer Dog

A trained cancer-sniffing dog hard at work.

Last November, a spotlight feature from Medical News Today spoke about medical detection dogs, and how they can help alert a diabetic owner to high or low blood sugar levels through being trained to detect a specific scent in their breath or sweat, as well as how dogs are currently being used for detecting various different cancers.  According to one study, trained detection dogs were able to detect ovarian cancer in tissue and blood samples by sniffing out volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Back in 2011, a study conducted by researchers at UK charity Medical Detection Dogs, such compounds could also be biomarkers of bladder cancer.  The authors of this study on prostate cancer note that back in 2010, a study revealed that specially trained dogs were able to smell VOCs released into urine from prostate cancer tumors.  However, this study only involved 33 patients.  Therefore, the Italian research team did a much larger version of this earlier study.

For this study, the team took two highly-trained dogs to see if they could detect prostate cancer-specific VOCs in the urine samples of 677 different participants.  Out of these, 320 of them had prostate cancer ranging from low-risk to metastatic, while 357 were healthy controls.  They discovered that the dogs could detect prostate cancer-specific VOCs in the urine samples with a combined accuracy of 98%.  Sensitivity to the compounds was an astounding 99% accurate, while specificity was 97% accurate.

According to Dr. Brian Stork, a urologist at West Shore Urology in Michigan, dogs are shaping up to be a promising approach to cancer detection.  While using dogs to identify cancer seems unorthodox, and so recently as ten years ago would have sounded ludicrous, “man’s best friend” very well could help save man’s life.  Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study revealing that dogs could also provide new insight into Chiari malformation in humans, while other research published in Genome Biology showed that dogs could serve as a model for OCD in humans.