Dogs and Cancer
Dogs Experience the World Through Their Nose First.
A dog’s sense of smell is far more finely tuned than a human’s, and throughout history mankind has maintained a partnership with canines that allows us to make use of that keen sense for hunting and tracking. But what if a dog’s nose could be used as a medical tool as well? A recent small study suggests that it’s possible; that dogs may be able to hone in on a molecule produced by prostate cancer cells and identify urine from afflicted patients.
Identify Molecules Produced By Cancer
“The problem,” says Jean-Nicolas Cornu, a French researcher working at Hospital Tenon in Paris, “is that we do not know what this molecule is, and the dog cannot tell us.” When identifying prostate cancer, most urine tests are hit or miss. Though they have been known to weed out cases in which prostate cancer exists, they are far from foolproof. That’s where the dogs come in. Working on the assumption that it might be possible to identify molecules produced by cancer in the unique odor they give to urine, scientists enlisted man’s best friend to put his high-functioning olfactory mechanisms to work.
Belgian Malinois Shepherds
In the study, Belgian Malinois shepherds – already world renowned as narcotics and bomb-sniffing dogs – were trained to smell and identify the differences between samples of urine from cancer patients and control patients. Out of 66 cases, the right sample was chosen 63 times. That’s a success rate of 95.5%! Other researchers in the field are understandably skeptical. Some believe that subtle signals from the scientists involved in the study may have inadvertently influenced the results. However, the concerns are held by a reluctant minority and feelings of excitement occupy the remaining majority. The consensus is that more testing is needed, with more comprehensive studies using larger groups. “Pretty impressive” are the words that urologist Dr. Anthony Y. Smith uses to describe the potential implications of such a study.“If these findings are valid,” says Smith, “they could lead to the development of more accurate tests that don’t require unnecessary biopsies.”