Over the past few years we have learned that a dog’s sense of smell can help patients with diabetes. A dogs sense of smell is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times better than the human sense of smell. That means they can smell infinitely small amounts of just about any substance. For diabetes, dogs are trained to notice either high or low levels of glucose and signal their owner.
Researchers are using a dog’s nose for other illnesses too. In 2013, it was reported that the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Working Dog Center teamed up with other departments in the college to research a dog’s ability to sniff out ovarian cancer. Because ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, this could provide doctors with a valuable tool to detect and treat this deadly cancer early.
More recently, a study showed that dogs can detect prostate cancer with 98 percent accuracy. An earlier study, completed in 2010, showed promising results in having dogs detect the presence of prostate cancer by smelling the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in urine. This study, however, only involved 33 patients.
The newest study involved 677 participants, 320 with prostate cancer and 357 without. Those with prostate cancer ranged from metastatic to low-risk. Two dogs were given the task of determining which patients had prostate cancer, based on their urine. One dog was able to detect the VOCs with a 98 percent accuracy, the other dog did so with a 97 percent accuracy.
Early detection of cancer is vital to improving life expectancy. Many times cancer is not detected until it has metastasized, or spread to other areas of the body. At this point it becomes much more difficult to treat and life expectancy decreases. If cancer is detected early, there is a much better chance of treatment being successful.
What it Means:
The concept of using dogs to help “sniff” out illnesses is new. However, the research shows how promising this new field of diagnostics is. We have always seen dogs as “man’s best friend” and knew of their exceptional sense of smell. Putting these together, dogs can not only offer comfort and support to those with illness, but can be instrumental in providing an early diagnosis.
Besides diabetes, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer, dogs have been used to detect the onset of epileptic seizures and lung cancer. The dogs are trained specifically for the tasks and, based on the information it is not clear whether a dog who can sniff out breast cancer can do so for prostate or lung cancer. But, either way, don’t be surprised when dogs become a mainstay in labs around the country.