New research suggests that dogs could soon be used to detect breast cancer in an extremely effective and reliable manner.
Animals working for Medical Detection Dogs in Buckinghamshire, UK, have already had a 93 percent rate of accuracy when it comes to sniffing 6,000 urine samples to detect prostate cancer.
The results of this prostate cancer trial were striking in that the dog’s nose had a higher rate of success when it came to detecting cancer than that of blood samples.
Encouraged by their findings, the team are now embarking on a landmark trial to establish if the dogs are able to detect breast cancer from samples of breath in the same way that earlier studies suggest they can detect bowel and lung cancer.
Women at high risk of breast cancer can be screened for the disease by simply breathing into a tube. The sample is then sniffed by one of the specially trained dogs to detect if cancer is present.
If the dogs can detect breast cancer with the same degree of accuracy that they can prostate cancer, researchers believe it would “revolutionize how doctors view the diagnosis of all cancers.”
Dr. Claire Guest, behavioral psychologist and founder of the Medical Detection Dogs charity, was alerted to the fact that she had breast cancer by her dog Daisy when they were working on the prostate cancer trial.
Daisy, a fox red labrador, would not stop jumping up at Dr. Guest’s chest. Following medical tests, Dr. Guest was found to have a deep seated early tumor.
The new trial, which has already begun, involves six dogs being trained to sniff breath samples for breast cancer. The four most effective dogs will be tested in the final trial involving samples from 1,500 women.
The dogs, whose highly-developed sense of smell is thought to sniff out the volatile substances released by cancerous cells, are trained to stare intently at positive cancer samples.
Dr. Guest told The Telegraph:
“We use high drive, working breeds of dogs, like labradors and spaniels. They work for treats and biscuits but they genuinely love to work. They all live in people’s homes, they come in to work in a lab and then go home at the end of the day.
“It is logical that the dogs can detect prostate, bladder and renal cancer in urine samples but detecting breast cancer in breath is something different.
“I genuinely do not know what we are going to find. It is a question that needs answering. If it is found that dogs can detect it, it will change what we know about the diagnosis of all cancers. After all the blood flows around the tumor and then around the lungs.
“If proven it would have a significant impact on what we consider possible in the diagnosis of cancer. High risk young women, who are too young for routine, regular mammograms could breathe into a tube every six months and find out quickly and painlessly if they have cancer.”
Dr. Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, added:
“It’s nice to see that our four-legged friends are being recruited to help in the fight against cancer, as we know that some dogs can sniff out the molecules given off by tumors.
“But although it’s not practical to use dogs to detect cancer in the general population, the results of this study – once it’s completed – could inform laboratory tests to develop ‘electronic noses’ that might diagnose cancer earlier.”