Dogs can sniff out cancer

Dogs’ noses have been long recognized for being highly sensitive, but new research suggests man’s best friend can even detect the early stages of cancer

It seems our favourite Andrex puppy has just got better as a study claims the breed can accurately detect chemical combinations in certain cancers, present in human breath or stool samples.

The study claims a Labrador was able to identify samples from cancer sufferers with a staggering 98% accuracy rate, while correctly identifying cancers from breath tests alone in 92% of cases.

‘The accuracy of canine scent detection was high – even for early cancer,’ says lead researcher Professor Hideto Sonoda, of Kyushu University. ‘This shows a specific cancer does indeed exist and that cancer-specific chemical compounds may be circulating throughout the body.’

The present NHS screening process uses a faecal occult blood test, which works by detecting small amounts of blood in stools, but the latest study suggests this method only detects 10% of cases in the early stages of bowel cancer.

‘In future, studies designed to identify cancer-specific volatile organic compounds will be important for the development of new methods for early detection,’ reported the British Society of Gastroenterology journal, Gut.

The Japanese research team said some dogs have such a keen sense of smell that they can detect the smallest traces of chemicals that appear to circulate in the bodies of people who have cancer.

The latest findings build on previous research in which dogs were used to sniff out cancers in the skin, lungs, bladder and ovaries.

Nell Barrie, science information officer from Cancer Research, UK, says: ‘It would be extremely difficult to use dogs as part of routine testing for cancer, and that’s why further research in this area is concentrating on finding out more about the molecules given out by tumours to see if they could be detected in other ways.’

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