Cancer Detection Dogs and Mesothelioma Diagnosis

A recent study came out that suggests dogs may actually be able to smell lung cancer, according to an article posted Wednesday on CNN’s health page. German researchers found that dogs could pick up on the scent of organic compounds linked to the disease’s presence in the human body. The canine’s powerful nose has the potential to detect different kinds of cancers early on. An early mesothelioma diagnosis would be good news for victims of asbestos exposure because of the greater availability of treatment options due to early detection.

Four dogs—two German Shepherds, an Australian Shepherd and a Labrador—were trained to lie down and touch the tube with their noses if they smelled lung cancer. They smelled 220 samples and successfully identified lung cancer in 71 out of 100 patients, according to CNN. They were 93% accurate when identifying cancer-free breath samples. Time Magazine reported that this accuracy is better than tests used by doctors to detect lung cancer right now.

Additionally, the dogs were able to differentiate between patients who also had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and those who did not. Patients with lung cancer often have COPD as well.

While this study focused on lung cancer, other studies have tried different types of cancer with similar results. Mesothelioma has yet to be tested with dogs, but the dog’s ability to differentiate between similar scents is potentially a great tool for identifying the stealthy cancer. Lung cancer occurs in the lung itself while mesothelioma occurs in the lung’s lining. Because lung cancer and mesothelioma have similar symptoms, dogs may be a good tool in identifying what sample is lung cancer and what is mesothelioma. Symptoms of mesothelioma often take years to manifest, but the dogs may be able to smell the cancer far before then.

Both lung cancer and mesothelioma can be caused by exposure to asbestos, but asbestos and mesothelioma are more often associated because asbestos is the only known cause of the disease. Early detection is important for lung cancer prognosis. Although there is no cure, more options for treatment for mesothelioma are available if it is identified early on.

Although the lung cancer study is not the first to test a dog’s sense of smell on cancer, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told CNN that it is the most sophisticated. Still, researchers say more studies are needed to help identify exactly what is the dogs are smelling in order to make this ability to detect cancer a viable test in the clinic.

Growing body of research says dogs really can smell cancer
CNN Health, August 17, 2011

A New Way to Detect Lung Cancer? Dogs Can Sniff It Out
Time Healthland, August 18, 2011

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