Science Questions

Can dogs sniff out cancer?

Tue, 22nd Nov 2011

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Question

Tyler Ramage, via Facebook asked:

Ia there any truth to dogs being able to 'sniff out cancer'? If so can you explain the science and the implications?

Answer

Chris -  Yes, people have done lots of studies on this.  The most recent that I read was a study where they took a whole bunch of dogs and exposed them to the urine of patients who had bladder cancer and every time the dogs smelt that, they were given a treat.  And so, in other words, the dogs associated the smell of the urine from the bladder cancer patient were getting a treat compared with a non-bladder cancer – control.  And they were able to produce dogs which when you put urine in front of them from patients who had known bladder cancer, they would sit down or bark, or do whatever they've been trained to do.  And when they did these trials, they found one patient who was supposed to be in the control group who consistently, the dogs all picked, and said this person has bladder cancer.  In fact, when they imaged that person, they had a covert renal cancer that was at a very early stage and the person’s life was saved because they then went in and did it.  They're now developing this technology and in fact, generating e-noses with the aim of sniffing out lung cancers and other things like that because cancers do change your metabolism and therefore the smell of your body and so this can be detected, and dogs just have the very sensitive nose for doing it. 

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What if the dogs aren't trained to do this? Can a dog that's just normal, untrained to sniff out cancer still detect cancer? Guest, Tue, 15th Sep 2015

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