New Trial Will Test Dogs' Ability to Sniff Out Prostate Cancer
Plenty of research studies have indicated that dogs may have the ability to sniff out certain types of cancer, including thyroid, breast, lung, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Now, the UK’s National Health Service has approved a trial at a UK hospital to further test the canine ability to detect prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in the United States – right behind non-melanoma skin cancer – and is one of the leading causes of cancer death in American men.
A biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose prostate cancer. The most common preliminary test used to determine if a biopsy is needed is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. The problem is, anywhere from 70 to 80% of men with an elevated PSA do not have cancer, and about 20% of men who do have cancer have normal PSA levels.
A 2014 study found that two dogs who were trained in prostate cancer detection were able to correctly identify urine samples from patients with cancer 99% of the time. They also picked out the people without cancer 97% of the time. Both of these results are far more accurate than the PSA test.
This new research in the UK will allow scientists to collect much more data on the accuracy of canine-cancer sniffing. They believe that what the dogs are detecting is a combination of volatile compounds given off by the cancer. From the data being collected, researchers may be able to determine the specific combination of volatiles, and are hopeful that this information will allow them to develop a much more reliable test.
In the meantime, if they find that the dogs continue to be more accurate than the PSA test, employing dogs as a second-line screening could be a cool, non-invasive way to help increase early-detection rates.
A similar program is in its very early stages at UC Davis, where two 4-month-old puppies are in training to develop their cancer-sniffing abilities. Alfie, a Labradoodle, and Charlie, a German Shepherd, will spend about 12 months learning to identify multiple types of cancer from urine, saliva, and breath samples. They will complete a clinical trial in 2016 to test their accuracy before they are employed to help the public as a screening method.