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Dogs detecting cancer

Hundreds of medical and scientific laboratories and institutions are working on early detection of different types of cancer. While researchers are trying to find some modern complicated technological methods for early detection of cancerous cells, apparently our “primitive” home pets are doing it simply and easily. Dogs detecting cancer (cancer sniffing dogs) can be considered as extremely interesting and useful phenomena which should be investigated and used.

It is well known that dogs can assist in emotional and physical healing and improve overall health and well-being by interacting with lonely seniors and patients with mental illness, Alzheimer’s or post-traumatic stress disorder. It was also discovered that dogs can predict epileptic seizures and sense earthquakes. At the same time, during last years it was noted that some cancer sniffing dogs (dogs detecting cancer) can provide absolutely new non-invasive diagnostic tool for early cancer detection.

During last decade scientists already proved that dogs are able to detect certain types of cancer at earlier stages than current modern screening methods. It was noted that dogs detecting cancer can smell certain volatile organic compounds (waste products of cancer) in saliva, urine and breath. It is absolutely amazing discovery because actually home dogs (our family members) can save our lives. In addition, if scientists could understand how it works, special medical canine support teams can be trained and used for early cancer detection in millions of cases.

Several observations prove that home dogs can not only smell cancers in their companions but dogs are clever enough to warn their owners about existence of cancer cells in the body. Some dog owners noted that their dog start spending an inordinate amount of time with its nose nestled in the area of breasts. It was warning for breast cancer. Similar behavior was noted in cases of prostate cancer. It was noted that some dogs are able to detect prostate cancer just by sniffing urine with the accuracy rate of 98%.

Cancer sniffing dog

Dogs have been known to do extraordinary things for and with their human counterparts including saving lives and alerting humans of danger. What makes dogs so special? Why would a dog be interested in smelling cancer? The answer is simple. Dogs have lived side by side with man for centuries (over 100000 years) and people always provided shelter and food for the dog. In return, dogs warned man against impeding danger, guarded livestock and crops. In all cases dogs used their extraordinary smelling ability to detect different types of danger. Actually the dog used his nose for our benefit. Nowadays dogs can even smell cancer “in situ” (stage zero). Dogs detecting cancer join us in difficult complicated war against cancer.

Presently researchers are testing chemicals in cancerous cells that some dogs are able to detect through smell. The ultimate goal is to produce nanotech sensors that can detect even the tiniest bits of cancerous tissue.

Studies involving clients suffering from lung cancer and breast cancer show that dogs can pin-point the scent of biochemical markers by sniffing patients’ breath and alerting researchers that they smell the cancer. Dogs’ sense of smell is so great that they can pick up on the distinctive smell of cancer cells and some dogs have been trained to detect extremely subtle scents the human body gives off when cancer is present.

Dina Zaphiris, dog trainer

Dina Zaphiris, Southern California’s premiere dog trainer has owned and operated a dog training business for over 25 years. She participated in very special scientific research involving dogs detecting cancer – in this study dogs were trained by having cancer patients breathe into polypropylene wool (stored in test tubes). Actually dogs were trained for correct cancer identification and warning signals (bark and drop down on the floor). During the trial, the dogs were able to detect cancer with a 98% accuracy rate.

In 2009 Dina Zaphiris created the “InSitu Foundation” to promote research and training of cancer-sniffing dogs. She already trained more than 30 dogs to detect different types of cancer. The study is being done in collaboration with Duke University, which is also conducting a similar cancer-detection program. This project can be helpful for cancers that are hard to determine at their early stage like stomach cancers, ovarian and pancreatic. Actually trained dogs can save thousands of lives.

Some other projects and studies devoted to dogs detecting cancer. It was noted that all programmes with dogs carried out on breast, lung and ovarian cancers using breath and tumor samples demonstrated very high rate of accuracy.

But can modern dog trainers provide enough dogs detecting cancer? Is it possible to use nanotechnologies for developing similar “electronic nose”? Can electronics replace cancer sniffing dogs? All answers will be visible in coming decades.


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