Dogs have an excellent sense of smellâ€”at least 10,000 times stronger than that of a human. Some scent hound breeds, such as the Bloodhound and Beagle, have as many as 225 million olfactory receptors.
Due to their incredible sniffing abilities, scent hounds are regularly used for hunting, search and rescue, and explosive detection.
Recently, there has been increased interest and research into how dogs can use their noses to help detect diseases.
Here are the most recent developments in the science of cancer-sniffing dogs.
Are Cancer-Sniffing Dogs Accurate in Detecting Disease?
A dogâ€™s nose has been used for all sorts of jobs throughout history, but now, their olfactory excellence is being put to the test in the medical field.
In 2010, scientists trained Giant Schnauzers to sniff out ovarian cancer.
Their results were impressiveâ€”the dogs were nearly 100% accurate at determining whether a woman had ovarian cancer or not, just by smelling a small blood sample.
Researchers are now beginning to expand on these detection capabilities and looking into cancer-sniffing dogs for lung cancer.
Using Cancer-Sniffing Dogs for Early Detection of Lung Cancer
It is estimated that 13% of cancers are classified as lung cancers, with more than 200,000 new cases in the US every year. The survival rate is best if lung cancer is detected early, but most patients are diagnosed at later stages.
Also, the tools used to diagnose lung cancer (chest X-ray and CT imaging) are expensive and can be inaccurate at identifying early cases of lung cancer.
For these reasons, experts are searching for an affordable and noninvasive way to diagnose lung cancer in the early stages.
Recent Study Results for Dogs Detecting Lung Cancer
The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine-Bradenton collaborated with BioScent Dx in Florida to study Beaglesâ€™ abilities to detect lung cancer.
In the study, specially trained Beagles smelled samples of blood serum from healthy patients and samples from patients who were recently diagnosed with lung cancer.
For these tests, the researchers randomly placed one cancer-positive sample among four cancer-free samples.
After smelling the different samples, the dogs notified their handlers that they smelled lung cancer by sitting.
The recently published paper on the study has some promising findings. On average, the three dogs detected cancerous vs. noncancerous serum samples over 95% of the time.
When Will Doctors Start Using Canine Cancer Detection?
Canine cancer detection is still in the experimental stage and is not regularly offered as a medical service. And while these results were very promising, the researchers say thereâ€™s more work to be done.
One of their next steps is to compare the accuracy of the scent detection method against other methods, such as chest X-ray and CT imaging.
They also want to see if the dogs can smell lung cancer in samples other than blood serum, such as saliva or breath.
One thing is for sureâ€”a dogâ€™s sense of smell is even more powerful than we thought.
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