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Dogs Sniff Out Human Cancers


Dogs can detect disease on the breath of a human cancer victim, according to a study to be released in the March issue of the Journal Integrative Cancer Therapies. The study finds that specially-trained dogs identified patients with breast and lung cancer with an overall accuracy rate of between 88 and 99 percent.

Lead author Michael McCulloch is with Pine Street Foundation, a research group that helps cancer patients make informed treatment decisions. He says dogs were deployed as a diagnostic tool because they work well with people, are easily trained and have an extraordinary sense of smell. "Dogs are currently the best-known chemical detectors on the planet. They can detect target compounds in concentrations as low as parts per trillion," he says.

After a 3-week training session, McCulloch says, dogs were put to the test. "The method used in our diagnostic study was to have the subjects - whether cancer patients or controls - breathe through a tube," he says. "Within that tube is a filler material, a fibrous material that would then capture the breath and the odors that came with it. That tube is then presented to the dog."

The dogs were instructed to pick the cancer breath sample from the four controls. The trials involved 86 patients, all of whom had been recently diagnosed with breast or lung cancer, and 83 healthy people.

McCulloch says the next step is to seek funding to develop non-invasive technology for cancer detection that can analyze chemicals in the breath comparable to what the dogs do naturally.