Four talented canines sniff out cancer in patients

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Dogs have lent a helping paw for centuries as workers, hunters, protectors, friends, and recently aids in therapeutic programs. This past month, scientists at Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany extended the reach of dog abilities to early detection of cancer in human patients.

Two German shepherds, one Labrador retriever, and one Australian shepherd successfully sniffed out lung cancer in 71 of the 100 patients in the study. These amazing animals also detected 372 of the 400 patients who did not have the disease. These detection rates are phenomenal for a disease that has very few early symptoms and accounts for more human deaths each year than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. Symptoms of lung cancer may be no more than a cough, a pain in the chest, or sore joints. After lung cancer has spread through the body there is a staggering 2% survival rate for patients. Early detection is vital towards recovery but there is not a reliable way to do this! Dogs may be the answer.

Obviously dogs cannot communicate with humans to whether someone should be diagnosed with a disease or not. One of the big questions that has left researchers asking, “what next?” is whether lung cancer sniffing dogs are a medical investment worth pursuing. Do we explore the possibility of a bark-to-english translator? Do we need to create a hyper sensitive robotic “smeller” similar to that of a dog nose? These are questions that may seem ridiculous but the answers could one day save your own life. Author of the study, Thorsten Walles gave his two cents on the matter. “In the breath of patients with lung cancer, there are likely to be different chemicals to normal breath samples and the dogs’ keen sense of smell can detect this difference at an early stage of the disease. Our results confirm the presence of a stable marker for lung cancer. This is a big step forward in the diagnosis of lung cancer, but we still need to precisely identify the compounds observed in the exhaled breath of patients. It is unfortunate that dogs cannot communicate the biochemistry of the scent of cancer!”

So next time you feel the need for a checkup for chest pain or shortness of breath you may not need to reach for the phone or type in webmd.com into your browser. The most reliable means of detection may be the furry diagnostician sitting in your lap.

The study can be found in the European Respiratory Journal.

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