Amazingly Accurate Dogs Detect Human Cancers by ScentPublished February 23, 2010
Whoever coined the phrase, "Dogs are Man's Best Friends" certainly captured the essence of canines. Not only do they make marvelous companions, when you think about it for a moment these remarkable animals certainly contribute some rather amazing gifts to the human species. They are our devoted help-mates in so many areas in our lives. In the capacity of service dogs, they facilitate greater independence for those who are sight and hearing impaired. As guard dogs, they not only protect our property but they help to keep us safe. They are the staunch and faithful partners of police, firemen and the military. In fact canines have become the most common and essential part of so many areas in our daily lives that we often take them for granted. Recently I ran across an article in the New York Times about dogs which blew me away. In a little known laboratory in Northern California dogs have been trained to help physicians detect certain types of cancer. Two Portuguese Water Dogs and three Labrador Retrievers have been able to detect lung cancer on the breath of cancer patients with close to 100% accuracy. Trained to "sit" when identifying a positive result, Mr. McCulloch reported that from the breath of healthy patients they sat 4 times but did not sit 708 times. On the other hand, from the breath of lung cancer patients, the dogs sat correctly 564 times and only 10 times incorrectly. Kobi. Photo via The New York Times At the Pine Street Clinic in San Anselmo, California, Kobi, one of the dogs in the program, scored high in a cancer-detection experiment. This study was based on previously well established premises, of which scientists have been aware since the 1980's, that tumors emit small amounts of benzene and alkane derivatives which are not present in healthy tissue. Since dogs can detect odors which are incredibly minute, researchers have already established that trained canines will react differently to the dried urine from those folks who are healthy from those with bladder cancer, and can also detect skin cancers. Dr Donald Berry, chairman of biostatistics at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, said, in referring to the "near -perfection in the clinic's study, "is off the charts: there are no laboratory tests as good as this, not Pap tests, not diabetes tests, nothing." While he and other cancer specialists still remain somewhat skeptical, they are definitely intrigued with this data. Michael McCulloch who is the research and lead director for the Pine Street Foundation in Marin County, California said that "the results seemed too good to be true. The dogs were correct about 88 percent of the time in their "diagnosis" of breast cancer, with almost no false positives. This compares strongly to more traditional diagnostic testing, such as mammography. Of course, no matter how accurate these canines are in their diagnostic techniques, scientists stress that while this is a fascinating and while these canine sniffing attributes are fascinating in themselves, of course the goal in these experiments is not to substitute the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases by using dogs, but to find exactly what substances in these chemicals to which they are reacting, and to develop innovative and more accurate technology based on these findings. Dr. Gansler of the American Cancer Society said, "It's not like someone would start chemotherapy based on a dog test. They'd still get a biopsy." I can attest to the fact that when I am not feeling well, our cats are always aware of my stress and discomfort, and appear to want to comfort me. I often joke with my husband that I am getting a free "cat scan", but perhaps my humorous words carry more truth than is generally accepted. What do you think? Leave a comment and share your opinion.