Mrs. Smith, Meet Dr. Puppy – Can Dogs Smell Cancer?

If you’ve been reading Something Wagging This Way Comes for a while, you’ve seen I’m pretty interested in the good old doggy nose. Or in more precise terms, the Snifferus Amazingus (I always knew my high school Latin would come in handy one day).

A recent research study in Japan trained a Labrador Retriever to detect cancer in people by smelling. The dog, Marine, was able to detect 40 out of 300 people who actually had cancer with an accuracy rate as high as 97 percent when sniffing stool samples (see, sniffing poop is a valuable skill; stop being so impatient when your dogs practice it).

The research is part of an attempt by scientists to identify compounds in cancer by odor so they can develop less expensive diagnostic tools that don’t shed and play fetch.

Golden Retriever Dog

Now open up and say, "Aaah." I'm just going to have a little sniff.

NPR interviewed Dr. Gary Beauchamp of the Monell Chemical Senses Center who reiterated that he didn’t think dogs would be used formally for diagnosis. He didn’t explain why.

I suspect it’s because most people who seek out professional treatment feel more comfortable with MRI machines and x-rays–y’know, diagnostic tools that don’t drool. As someone who hasn’t seen a doctor in over twenty years except at an occasional cocktail party, I’d much rather visit a dog.

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  1. I’d rather visit a dog as well. All my canine interactions have been much more pleasant than any of my medical check-ups.

    This is really interesting. I’ve heard of people suggesting this sort of possibility but I’ve never actually seen scientific data. 97% is pretty accurate, perhaps even more accurate than typical medical diagnostics. If there is something we can harness there, that would be excellent.

    • What I’m curious about is whether dogs alert to all cancers or only those that are most invasive and quickly growing?

      I suspect that we’re treating some cancers found through advanced diagnostics that might not be worth treating. Studies are starting to find this with prostate cancer. It’s treated aggressively in men in their 70s who would probably die of something else sooner than this slow growing cancer.

      So is there something more discerning in a dog nose than in an MRI machine? Something with a better way to detecting the level of threat instead of just the presence of a tumor?


  2. I’m wondering if the dog has to carry malpractice insurance in the event of a wrong diagnosis.

  3. very interesting. i’ve heard of that too.

    i also read lately that dogs are being used in the states to sniff out bedbugs. it appears you have a bedbug invasion of some kind?

    closer to home, i recently had a meniscopy on one of my knees. before and after the op, georgia would always sniff just that knee. like she knew something was wrong with it. [the smell of putrifying muscles maybe?] very disconcerting. i wonder what else dogs know about us and aren’t telling.

  4. Sign me up for the dog visit! I’d much rather get the bad news from a furry face than a cold fish! I read an really interesting article a few years ago that talked about dogs being very accurate in detecting melanomas on people by sniffing them.

  5. I’ve had heard they can also detect low blood sugar in diabetics, and when someone is about to have seizure. All because of smell. Once a dog is trained with their nose, I think they could detect anything! Very cool. And yes, I’d rather visit a dog than one of dang machines or doctor any day!!


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