Dogs Sniffing Out Cancer: Really?

Golden Retriever
Golden Retriever (Photo credit: rkleine)

Well, yes. Really. Investigators at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, USA) have joined with Penn Vet Working Dog Center to try to sniff out early ovarian cancer, a potentially silent killer that is often diagnosed too late.

Background: Ovarian cancer will kill more than 14,000 women in the USA this year (and 22,000 new cases will be found). We don’t have a great screening tool for ovarian cancer, so researchers are hoping the dogs and their keen sense of smell can lead them to one.

Cancer cells have a detectable biomarker. So engineering students at Penn designed a large wheel with paint cans on the end of each spoke. Only one of the cans has cancer tissue in it. If the dog correctly identifies it, it is rewarded with time with a treasured toy.

The research is an interdisciplinary effort between the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the University of Pennsylvania. There are 3 parallel studies: 1) the biologic one with the dogs; 2) an organic chemistry effort to create an artificial nose; and 3) nanotechnology to develop a computerized screening instrument.

My take: Intriguing. The researchers build on 2010 work from Sweden, where pet giant schnauzers showed a sensitivity of 100% (if cancer was there, the dogs always found it), and specificity of 95% (   ). Dogs with long noses (think hunting dogs such as Labradors, golden retrievers and springer spaniels) have the largest surface area for smell receptors. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minuteable now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: BC News (USA) 09 August 2013

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