Science Scope

Dogs sniff out bowel cancer

Posting in Cancer

Japanese researchers trained dogs to sniff out bowel cancer.

Japanese researchers have trained dogs to sniff out bowel cancer. The dogs can take a breath or stool sample and detect if there is cancer present with as much accuracy as a colonoscopy. The dogs performed well when they smelled samples from people with early stage cancer.

The research went down like this. Researchers at Kyushu University trained a female black labrador to do 74 sniff tests for a few months. The dog was trained to sniff out cancer from five breath or stool samples! Only one was cancerous.

To "trick" the dog, or at least make it a little bit less obvious which one was the cancerous sample, the researchers used non-cancerous samples from people with other problems such as smoking or intestinal issues.

This goes to show that cancerous cells smell different than the other cells. That's why, other researchers have shown that dogs have been able to sniff out other types of cancers as well.

Like Popular Science said:

But the numbers—and the nose, it would seem—don’t lie; the dog nailed the breath tests with 95 percent accuracy and the stool sniffs with a stunning 98 percent accuracy, making her just as effective as the best high-tech tools clinicians use today, including invasive colonoscopies.

Training dogs is another issue all together.

CSIRO researcher Trevor Lockett told ABC.net.au:

Detection of early stage cancers is the real holy grail because surgery can cure up to 90 per cent of patients with early stage disease. Cure rates decrease dramatically as the cancers become more advanced.

While training dogs to identify cancer with their incredible sniffing ability might be impracticable as a scalable medical screening procedure, it's reasonable to think that one day sensors could do the dirty work.

An electronic nose can detect tumors in its earliest stages. But can researchers design a system that can recreate what goes on when a dog uses its super sense of smell? The dog might be smelling a number of different compounds - and this might be hard to recreate with sensors.

A number of groups are honing in on the precision of the systems to detect a slew of cancers and to identify the threat of hazardous substances. I wrote about Stanford chemists who created an e-nose that can sniff out anything from sour milk to explosives.

Dogs Sniff Out Cancer in Stool [ABC]

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure