Britain’s National Health Service authorized a trial designed to train dogs to detect prostate cancer and be a helpful diagnosis tool for doctors that currently rely only on the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test to spot the illness.
Past research had revealed that dogs can smell odors undetectable by humans including some volatile organic compounds released by cancer tumors. Dr. Claire Guest of the Medical Detection Dogs, a non-profit group focused on training dogs to sniff out several human diseases, explained that the animals have an exceptional sense of smell.
While humans have in their nose 5 million sensory receptors, dogs have over 300 million. So, they are great at the job of detecting the smells that surround cancerous cells when dividing. Various tests have shown that dogs can detect the odors in small samples of urine or even the breath of a patient.
Dr. Guest believes that the unconventional diagnosis method may open a new path of diagnosis in human illnesses and conditions in the future. At the same time, the method is a return to basics since man has known since ancient times that dogs could sniff out the odd smells in his body which signaled a change in its biochemical composition. But in modern times, that knowledge was somehow lost.
Medical Detection Dogs is currently performing the trials, after it had conducted other tests and proved that dogs can detect prostate cancer with an accuracy of 93 percent. The non-profit group explained that the dogs need half a year to be trained, but the effort is worth it.
During their training, dogs must sniff eight urine samples and bark, sit, or lick the container whenever they sense cancer. In a first phase dogs are rewarded whenever they are able to smell urine, but in the final phase they get rewarded only if they detect cancer.
Scientists said that after six months of training dogs can turn into incredible sniffing machines that can spot cancer in a urine sample on the spot. That makes them a lot more efficient than conventional laboratory tests and way cheaper.
Dr. Guest noted that a single dog can sniff hundreds of samples in a day, and they really enjoy what they are doing.
“To them it’s a hunt game – they find the cancer,
Dr. Guest said.
The researchers also said that one of these dogs saved her life six years ago when it started to nudge her chest in an attempt to tell her that she had breast cancer. Fortunately, the cancer was in its early stages and it was curable.
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