In an article by CNN, Lucy, a guide dog school dropout, found a new way to serve the community, becoming a cancer sniffing dog. You may think this is silly and impossible, but in fact many dogs can be trained to detect cancer in humans. Lucy, was trained to sniff out prostate, bladder, and kidney cancer. Lucy, along with many other cancer sniffing dogs, are saving lives detecting early stage cancer across the world.
Dogs noses are unbelievably more powerful than human noses. A human nose has about 5 million sensors in it to control what we smell. A dog’s nose has roughly 300 million sensors. This allows dogs to break down smells into individual parts. Where we might smell a chocolate chip cookie in the oven, a dog smells flour, cocoa, sugar, and butter.
When a dog sniffs you, it can tell a lot about you. Dogs can pick up on pheromones you release and by these pheromones a dog can tell your gender, mood, if you’re pregnant, and even what you ate for dinner the other night. Some of these pheromones released come from the cells inside your body. Cancerous cells release a different smell from healthy cells, and dogs can smell the difference. The difference between the two smells is very close, but most dogs can detect parts per trillion, the equivalent of two or three drops in an Olympic sized pool.
The founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, Claire Guest, had her life saved by her dog Daisy. Daisy repeatedly sniffed Claire and lunged at her chest. Claire later discovered a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of Daisy’s early warning, Guest was able to avoid aggressive chemotherapy and the doctors were able to treat her and cure her cancer.
Testing the Dogs
A current British study tests if dogs are detecting cancer, or simply detecting other symptoms that cancer patients might also have such as old age. Dogs are sent to sniff eight urine samples, one of them belonging to a cancer patient, and others belonging to patients with similar symptoms to the cancer patient. The dogs accurately identified the cancerous sample 95% of the time.
Guest amongst other scientists believes these dogs can be used to detect many other diseases in the future. With an accuracy rating of 95%, the dogs are actually more accurate than some lab tests. These dogs think of the detection process as some kind of game, so they have no problem processing hundreds of these tests a day.