For many years now there have been reports from people claiming their dog sniffed out their cancer, even actress Shannen Doherty believes her dog detected her breast cancer before it was diagnosed by her doctors. Until now however, these reports have been nothing more than hearsay. In a trial approved by the NHS, scientists hope to finally test this theory and determine whether or not a dog can accurately detect prostate, bladder and breast cancers.
Medical Detection Dogs, a charity which works with NHS trusts and universities, has had approval from Milton Keynes University Hospital to test urine samples from patients in order to find out whether or not dogs are able to accurately detect which patients have cancer.
It is believed that cancer cells release chemicals or ‘volatiles’ which are then disposed of by the body through urine and it is these compounds which dogs are able to detect. Dogs have a very keen sense of smell and are able to detect tiny odour concentrations, around one part per trillion (the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools) which is why they are able to detect diseases, such as cancer, much earlier than current tests allow.
In an earlier study looking at prostate cancer the medical dogs were able to correctly detect prostate cancer in 93% of cases.
The new trial looks at bladder cancers and breast cancers. If proved successful, scientists hope that specifically trained dogs will be able to provide additional testing for cancers that are currently difficult to diagnose reliably. In the long term, they hope to develop an electronic system or E-nose to replace the dogs in detecting the cancer volatiles which could ultimately replace the need for biopsies to be taken.