Dogs Help British Scientists Sniff Out Prostate Cancer
Never underestimate the power of a dog's nose. PBS notes that dog's sense of smell is 40 times greater than humans, and scientists are taking advantage of it any way they can.
Reuters states that recently medical researchers of Britain's National Health Service are receiving help from dogs to sniff out prostate cancer. Currently, doctors can tell if a patient has the health condition through a prostate specific antigen test. The scientists are hoping that dogs may be able to detect the cancer much earlier than the test, potentially helping save lives in Britain and elsewhere.
A known fact
This is not the first time dogs' noses have been put to the test to sniff out cancer. According to the newspaper the Sacremento Bee, several studies have been conducted to see if dogs can detect various types of cancer. The results have been so effective in the past that researchers are even allowing dogs to join their teams in the hope of developing better testing methods. The University of California - Davis recently invited two 4-month-old dogs, Alfie and Charlie, to join their research team. The scientists hope that the dogs will be able to detect various types of cancer through saliva, urine and breath.
So far, scientists have discovered that dogs can detect several types of cancer, including melanoma, bladder, ovarian, lung and breast. So far, many researchers have realized the best way dogs can detect cancerous cells is through the scent of human's breath, urine or saliva. However, researchers are still unsure exactly what is in these fluids that allows dogs to make accurate analyses.
Most people know that dogs have a strong sense of smell. All dogs have three-hundred million sensory receptors compared to human's meek five million. With that number, dogs are able to distinguish even the slightest changes in odor that people would never be able to detect.
What we now know is that cancer cells that are dividing differently have different volatile organic compounds -- smelly compounds -- that are associated with the cells. And dogs with their incredible sense of smell can find these in things like breath and urine," Dr. Claire Guest, co-founder of the charity Medical Detection Dogs in 2008, told Reuters.
A recent change
For years, scientists have known that dogs can notice small differences in chemical compounds, but they have not taken advantage of the skill until the past few years. Now that they have realized what they have in front of them, several studies are being conducted to determine exactly what dogs can do in the fight against cancer.
Guest noted the first time she was intrigued by dogs' skill was in 2008 when her team realized dogs could detect 93 percent of prostate cancer cases by smelling urine. After their discovery, the scientists were approved for a set of trials by the Milton Keynes University Hospital. Now, Guest and her team are training dogs to help join the battle. Dogs will undergo detection training for six months, and then tested to see whether they can completely detect cancer in the urine samples the dogs are given. At first, the dogs are trained to detect the smell of human urine among a set of other smells. Once they have mastered that, the dogs are tested on various samples of urine to see if they can determine which has cancer cells in it. Often Guest's team will give the dogs eight samples to choose from. When the dog believes he has found the sample with cancer in it, he is asked to sit down or bark at the sample.
Hopefully these dogs and many others may help lead scientists to a possible cure for cancer.