Indeed, dogs can be trained to detect cancer of various types including colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma by sniffing people’s skin, bodily fluids, or breath. They have incredibly sensitive smell receptors that are approximately 10,000 times more accurate than humans’.
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According to scientists, the anatomy of a dog is what can help the animal to detect the cancer. Dogs sniff pretty much nonstop, and the sniffed air is separated into two streams; one for respiration and one for smelling.
Over the past several decades, medical experts noted that illness had a particular smell and dogs’ extremely sensitive sense of smell can be useful in the medical world.
“I absolutely believe that [dogs] can detect cancer,” Cynthia M. Otto, DVM, PhD, director of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) Working Dog Center, said. “The bigger question is how we will use them in the battle to fight cancer.”
Using dogs’ ability to detect cancer can be very promising, however, not all studies of canine cancer sniffers have been a success and the reliability of canine cancer detection requires further research.
In 2017, a professor of toxicology at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, David C. Dorman, DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT, and his colleagues conducted a experiment by collecting urine samples from normal dogs and from dogs known to have cancer. He then presented the samples to several dogs.
“The dogs were trained to signal the odor by moving the scent container with their nose,” explained Dr. Dorman. A technician would provide the dog with a treat every time it correctly selected the urine from a dog with cancer.”
“Training kept becoming more complex. We started with 1 normal and 1 cancer urine sample and eventually moved to multiple samples of each from different dogs.”
At the end of the experiment they concluded that only 1 of the 4 dogs learned to identify urine from a dog with cancer.
Satisfied with the result, Dr. Dorman doesn’t dismiss the possibility that dogs can detect cancer. “I believe that we can train dogs to detect some cancers,” he said.
“I doubt, however, that this training will apply to all forms of cancer because no 2 forms of cancer are necessarily identical.”