Amazing Dogs Sniff Out Early Stage Cancer!
It has long been said that dogs are "man's best friend!" Now we can also say they are "woman's best friend" because they are being placed on the front lines of detecting early stage ovarian cancer, one of the most deadly cancers among women!
Dogs' astonishing sense of smell and their unique ability to work so cooperatively with researchers and doctors enable them to do what the most advanced modern medical technology cannot do... sniff out ovarian cancer at the very earliest stages!
Ovarian cancer has been dubbed the "silent killer" because it has no obvious symptoms and it cannot be detected in systematic screenings until the cancer is quite advanced.
For these reasons, about eighty percent of women with ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until their cancer is in the advanced stages. By this time, it is too late for successful treatment and the death rate is very high.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, more than 14,000 American women die from ovarian cancer each year because it is not caught in time.
Dogs and their superior noses may soon be changing these devastating statistics!
In rare cases when ovarian cancer is detected in the early stage, the long-term survival rate of those who have it skyrockets to ninety percent, i.e. ninety out of one hundred women with ovarian cancer could be saved if it could be caught in the early stages!
A long-term research study was started in 2013 at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine to determine if dogs can be trained to detect with accuracy when a woman has early stage ovarian cancer.
One of the stars of the research project, a handsome German Shepherd named Tsunami, will be featured on a show called “Life at Vet U” airing on the cable station, Animal Planet, this Saturday at 10 p.m. (October 1, 2016). If you don't catch it on the first run, maybe you can catch it on a re-run.
Using a specially designed "scent wheel" with airtight ports containing different samples that can be opened and closed, dogs are trained to recognize the difference between ovarian tissue that is cancerous versus non-cancerous. They are also being trained to recognize the same subtle differences in blood samples from women with and without ovarian cancer. They are trained to sit down with they discover a sample with ovarian cancer and they are rewarded accordingly.
Remarkably, there is a distinctive smell to cancer, not to humans but to dogs whose ability to smell is at least one thousand times better than ours, no exaggeration!
In fact, dogs have the amazing ability to smell a substance that is only one part in one trillion!
Cancer cells have a different metabolism than normal cells, and therefore, put off byproducts that are different and smell different to a dog. The dogs in this study work an eight hour shift and each sniff training session lasts about ten to fifteen minutes.
What is astonishing is the dogs have advanced to a ninety percent accuracy rating on blood plasma samples!
They can tell if a woman has ovarian cancer just by sniffing her blood serum!
The good news too is that the researchers have recently received more funding for this amazing life saving project.
While we call these cancer sniffing dogs "work dogs," to them it is fun activity.
By natural instincts, a dog loves to hunt and this is a hunting game to them just as if you were hiding different toys or treats around. It's also a dog's natural instinct to work cooperatively within a pack and please the leader of the pack.
The humans they work with become part of their pack and they bond very closely with them... tag wags, treats, pets, and all!
Dogs are also being trained to detect extremely faint volatile compounds in the urine of men with early stage prostrate cancer that is very hard to detect otherwise.
A large scale study was conducted in Italy using 902 willing participants. These consisted of 362 men who had been diagnosed with prostrate cancer, ranging in severity from very low risk to highly metastatic (extremely advanced and hard to treat). The control group consisted of 540 men and woman who had not been diagnosed with prostrate cancer.
The impressive results of the large scale prostrate cancer study was first reported at a meeting of the 2014 American Urological Association and has stirred great interest in using dogs to detect early stages of cancer.
For five months, two German Shepherds who had previously been trained to detect bombs and explosives, one named Liu and the other Zoe, were trained to sniff urine samples and distinguish the difference between samples from men with prostrate cancer and those without this cancer.
When they discovered a sample from a man with prostrate cancer, they were trained to sit down in front of the sample and were rewarded with a positive clicking noise followed by a treat if they were correct. Amazingly, after their training, the two dogs were 98.6 percent accurate on average with the 902 samples in the study. Moreover, one dog was 100 percent accurate!
Dogs are also being trained to detect the early stages of lung cancer by sniffing exhaled air samples.
Dogs have been able to successfully identify other forms of early cancer when modern medical technique either missed them or very likely would have if the patients had been tested.
- Melanoma (the worst form of skin cancer)
- Breast cancer
- Pancreatic cancer, one of the hardest to diagnose early and a deadly killer in the advanced stages.
At Pennsylvania State University, there is a bio-engineer named Brent Craven who is taking MRI's of a cadaver dog's nose (yes, science is sometimes a bit gruesome) with the goal of creating an artificial nose that works as well as a canine nose.
However, those of us who share our lives with a beloved canine know all too well there will never be a machine that can match the superior olfactory abilities of an inquisitive dog who has the stubborn determination to ferret out a strange smell, especially in a loved one!
One of the most heart-warming stories of cancer sniffing dogs involves Dr. Claire Guest, an animal psychologist (yes, this is a real field!), and her beautiful golden Labrador named Daisy.
One day, Dr. Guest was letting her dogs out to play in the park when Daisy refused to scamper off with the other dogs. This was highly unusual because Daisy was always feisty and ready to play in the park.
That particular day, however, she stayed in the car with Dr. Guest and insisted on repeatedly pressing against her chest in one specific spot with her nose and paws.
Daisy was obviously trying to communicate something very important to her beloved human. After a few days, Dr. Guest decided to have her doctor take a look and they discovered a very tiny and very deep malignant tumor in one of her breasts in the exact spot Daisy had indicated.
It was not even close to being big enough to feel through a self-examination and most mammography would have missed such a tiny tumor. Bottom line, Dr. Guest's loyal Labrador detected this cancer so early she very likely saved her life!
And... Dr. Guest's story gets even better! In honor of Daisy, Dr. Guest started a non-profit organization called Medical Detection Dogs. This is a special place where dogs are trained to detect various forms of cancer in both urine and blood samples sent there from all over the world!
This is yet another way our amazing dogs protect us with their superior canine abilities!