Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dogs Sniff Out Clues in the Fight Against Cancer

They’ve got funny names for cancer researchers, like Captain Jennings and Tibbs. They’re also a little furry and have a tendency to lick their white-coated colleagues. But these canine lab assistants may one day make it possible to detect cancers early enough to keep them from becoming fatal.
The Pine Street Foundation, a cancer education and research center in San Anselmo, Calif., is hoping one day to train these dogs to sniff out, literally, early-stage ovarian cancer—a disease that kills two-thirds of the 22,000 women diagnosed with it each year, according to the American Cancer Society, because it is often caught only after it has spread beyond the ovaries.
In 2006 the foundation published a study showing it was possible to train dogs to identify, based on breath samples,
which patients had lung and breast cancer. Now the organization is recruiting ovarian cancer patients and dogs for a new study.
Nicholas Broffman, executive director of the foundation, says the dogs are helping to answer an important question that may one day lead to earlier detection of diseases like ovarian and pancreatic cancers, which are often caught only in very late stages: Does cancer have a smell?
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Comments (53)
The following content represents the opinions of Health.com users. It is not editorially reviewed for medical or factual accuracy. It does not constitute medical advice. See your doctor for medical advice.
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lavita
wow,that is amazing i watched a show on dogs who can detect before a person has a seizure as well.my little min pin max always knows when i am sick with a sinus infection he snuggles me,tries licking at my nose and kinda sneezes when i blow out my nose.
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nate
so u think it is possbile that dogs have the ablity to smeel if so that would me that they can or human get infected that means pepole are like virus so how can u stop that??
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JC
WTF? I couldn’t even understand what you just said.
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Sam
yes, it is true women can smell better than men and dogs have a keen smell also.so next time your feeling fuzzy she knows.
me
???that is a very interesting and well though comment
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Jane
nate, use spell check
Kelly
WHAT???
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Anne
I had a friend who died this year from pancreatic cancer. Two years ago, her dog (a miniature Doberman pincher) kept laying by her side where the pancreas was – even before she was diagnosed.
So I do believe there is much more to be learned from our dogs.
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gina
hi i think thats true i was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when i was 27 yrs old , i practically called to my parents house every day.My dads dog used to lean into me and sit sit beside me alot, and even stare at me alot,it did make me think is there something he knows that i dont..im 35 now and had two operations he dosent do it anymore!
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Sandi, RN
This may sound hard to believe but i can “smell” cancer. I think after taking care of cancer patients you get to know that very specific odor – almost more of an aura, but definitely a smell too. It’s hard to explain, but you know how when you smell something and it brings back a memory? It’s that kind of a sensation.
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Diva
Nate makes no sense!
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Ali
ur right diva, nates a fool, tell em to get his words right lol
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An honest chap
Dogs do not understand cancer (thou they can tell if a person is “down”) and the researchers did not imply that.
What was actually shown was that dogs’ noses were sensitive enough to detect the chemical signature of a tumour. In essence the dogs were trained to respond if they smelt an unusual smell. The smell related to chemicals over expressed (made in excess) in tumour cells.
Mass spectrometers can also do this and at a lot lower concentrations than dogs. However the idea of using dogs is quite novel and possibly the most pleasant test ever. However I fear the rate of false positives will be high. Also it is likely that early detection will be impossible as a tumour will need be well established. Before this the distinct signature from the over expressed chemicals will be masked by the signal from normal cells. As these also make the same chemicals but in smaller amounts .
Sandi humans can not smell cancer. What you are insinuating is insulting and has been proven false, often.
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Noreastbob
Honest Chap, It is comforting to know we have people, like you, who know everything
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Noreastbob
Honest Chap, It is comforting to know we have people, like you, who know everything. Tell me oh wise one…did they run these oft run tests around the same time frame they were testing to see if humans can hear aomebas?
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Marla Kile
My poodle would lay beside me.nose at my neck area.when my mother came near me,he would show teeth like he was going to bite.a few weeks later they discovered a malignant tumor on my thyroid gland.when it was removed he stopped his weird behavior and back to his sweet self.I know with no doubt he was telling me and my Mother ,If we would just get it,and we did.I think it is a smell.
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Kelley, RN
Dear Honest Chap
Are you a nurse? Are you able to even slightly empathize with what Sandi is saying? I think it’s pretty safe to say that you’re just overopinionated and inexperienced (a bad combination). There is also a smell of death, though I’m sure you think I’m just saying that.
Don’t you think that if “mass spectrometers” could do a better job, than the researchers at San Anselmo would go down that route first?
Get off your high horse.
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sarah
that is great how they can sniff out cancer. How do they do that?
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anonyme
Thanks for posting a very interesting article. Dogs also care deeply as much as dog owners care about them. I also read an interesting article on
http://www.englishbulldogpuppyblog.com that tells why we shouldn’t feed our dogs with chocolate, raisins and grapes.
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jade
well i think it would e good if dogs could smell cancer.it would save millions of lives.
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Tom
This gives a wonderful new meaning to the term “lab test”.
By the way, Nate may be forgiven for his unintelligible note above. Sadly, he is the product of a school system which accepts mediocrity (or less) in both teachers and students.
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Susan
This is really amazing, but what I have seen with my own eyes was, that our dog licked and cared for my husband, every time he came home from chemo. We called him Doctor at the time because of his behaviour. They can sniff sadness, pain, anything!! This is why I am not that surprised. I can rely on him, he feels the sighns way before we and the doctors do. My husband is okay now, but I always worry.
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Susan
I made a few spelling errors in my prev. comment, I hope you don’t mind that much :)) Sorry!!
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geri b
And I know of a cat that was a nursing home pet; a day or two before a resident would die, this cat would want to sleep with them. or at least. spend most of its days in their room. Sadly, the home’s administrator was allergic to cats so a new home had to be found for it.
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Kev
People cannot smell cancer. Dogs…I believe. People smelling patients with cancer are smelling just that, not the cancer itself. We are talking about detection…that is different from people in a hospital or clinic being treated with the cancer. I am sure that a nurse might be able to recognize the odor of a patient that has cancer, but that is not the same as detecting cancer. RN’s do a great job and are definitely life savers. Without them, there would be a lot more deaths daily.
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Kev
Excuse my typing errors please. :)
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scott
All animals have a much greater sense of detecting danger and so forth so it don’t surprise me at all.
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Nichole, RN
I am an oncology nurse. I have heard many stories from my patients about how they find their dogs acting differently prior to a cancer diagnosis, such as “sniffing out the area” or licking specific spots. I believe that dogs are very connected to their owners and can indeed detect when there is an abnormality. Unless you have experienced something like this at a personal level you may not understand what is being recognized in this article.
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Dottie
I have 2 family members who have dogs and they dogs would always lay on them and nudge them with thier nose,one time the dog jumped on my niece and clawed at her chest area so it was bruised and swollen and she felt a lump a few days later so she went to the doctor and they found she had breast cancer. She would have never known if it wasn’t for Max,cause she was 28 and never thought it would happen to her at her age. Strange,but true and I have heard of others who have had this happen.
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Jan
I totally believe this can happen. My dog (a lab) is VERY sensitive to breathing, and if she sticks to me like glue any particular day, I know I need to keep my inhaler close by. Also when my parents werent yet diagnosed with sleep apnia, she would stick her face right up to theirs and whine, poke, or even bark until they woke up. After they were diagnosed and now wear breathing masks, she doesnt do it. (Thinking I need a test, she’s started doing it to me recently!)
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mary
There is more to the heavens and the earth than meets the eye. Animals can be man’s best friend.
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hoosiersusie
When these dogs begin their help of saving cancer paients, one of my prayers will be answered.
I lost my mother,brother, sister and father in a 7 year period. All from cancer. I keep my faith and pray for all of you and all of YOUR loved ones.
I look forward to hearing more on this subject.
Dogs Rule !! Keep the faith !
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digsy
This all makes perfect sense to me. I personally can smell a cold in other people way before it happens. My nose is particularly attuned to the smell of mucous. And consider dogs sense of smell….
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Jay
My Sister-in-laws Lab grabs her arm with her mouth and makes her sit down right before a seisure. She fell to the floor one time after getting the dog and the Lab has seated her ever since.
If a cat has this ability they don`t care enough to want to help you.
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Madison
Thats simply amazing my dog Mac i think can tell when I have an infection cuz he alwayz follows me around and tries to lick me where evr the infecton is
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butch
I have worked Hospice and yes the Tinge of cancer in the air is soon unmistakeable. I have even told friends to git oncology test to find they indeed have cancer. An Ex Gf had the ketone smell of Diabetic. I told her and she was diagnosed positive. I am not unusual there are a lot of health services ppl out here thay know what we deal with daily.Doctors only deal with it 8 minuets in an average office visit.As for Dog’s ,they make only correct decisions based on the same thing thak makes them travel 800 miles to get home when they are lost. though all won’t do it some will. I have seen dog’s find bodies in the water of a river 64 days old.
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Johnny Franks
ok, so I think all this stuff is soooooooooo cool. Sometimes I believe that dogs are magic, can you believe that they can sense all this stuff! They must be magic, kind of like god. and there was this one time when my dog was sniffing me, in my crotch! He also sniffed my legs and my arms and my neck and my stomach. He also jumped and hit me in my chest! I went into the doctor bc i was pretty sure I had cancer, and guess what! I didn’t!!!! It turns out that dogs just go around and sniff people and jump on them all the time!!!!!
Dogs cant smell a specific cancerous organ through your skin, they are able to detect chemicals that are released through your breath and body fluids, meaning your whole body smells like cancer to them, not your specific cancerous organ.
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mel watt
After reading Nate’s comment, I think I have figured out what he was asking/commenting about.I believe he was wondering “If dogs can smell cancer viruses, in humans, can they themselves(the dogs) become infected from smelling the virus samples?”
Ok ,if that wasn’t what he was trying to say,it is a good question I have pondered myself anyway.Are these dogs in danger of becoming infected from sniffing these samples,is there something in teh involved cells that can be transfered to the dog and make them infected?Having owned and loved dogs all my life,I would not like to think of them as a medical “tool” to be disposed of if they become infected with cancer.
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lillian
I had a squamous cell carcinoma on my hand.I did not pay attention to it at first-my hands were always getting dinged up-the first creatures to notice were my donkeys. They licked and tried to bite at it-at this time it was very small, hardly noticeable. the donkeys behaved in a very uncharachteristic fashion about it.My dogs began to notice it, and one of the cats, a very shy one, cmae forward and grabbed my hand and tried to bite at it. This is all before it ever seemed to be anything. However I do know that squamous cell cancer does have a smell, which I learned when it got bigger,just that all these animals noticed it and more to the point, hated it and tried to lick or bite it off me. It would indeed be difficult to make this into some kind of precise tool, but surely any kind of early warning is helpful, even of we don`t understand how they do it, if we can study animal`s reactions enough to be able to use what they are trying to tell us.
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Kathi
Just another reason to be thankful I have 8 dogs. And if anyone wants one I rescue Chow Chows, just let me know!!
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Debby
I am a believer. I am a diabetic and have had my little dog and my cat wake me up at night just before I crash from low blood sugars. They are very insistant that I get up. After I get up and get something to eat and my sugars level out they go back to sleep. They never wake me if everything is okay.
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Funny
my dog can always smell when i fart…
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Sally
My parents had a lab/border collie mix named Debbie that cought both their cancers. She wouldnt leave my moms birthmark on her leg alone. Sniffing it and sitting down next to it. Then my mom found out it was skin cancer. Then one day Debbie climbed up on my dads chest and did the same thing. He was later diagnosed with single cell lung cancer.
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This is not new
Using dogs to sniff out cancer is nothing new. It has been done before to early detect skin cancer.
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Cindy, facilitator
For those of you who are skeptics, animals have abilities that far supercede that of the human capability. in fact, animals without condition have a higher sense and if we would actually take heed of their remarkable presences we would all learn a thing or two. so for those who are ready to make blanket statements, here is a thought to ponder: “Animals are reliable,full of love,true in their affections,predictable in their actions,grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for humans to live up to.”
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Kim
Kelly, RN: I know what you mean. I am also a nurse, and was a hospice nurse for two years. there is a definate odor a patient gets when he is dying. Its a smell you dont forget too quickly. Also, the cancer smell is also very real, however, I wont forget it because I have cared for cancer patients. Its rotting flesh…diseased flesh, and its a smell you dont forget. An Honest Chap, you sound as though you know quite alot about cells. I will give you the benefit of that, but dont wave others off as fools, because WE have experienced things first hand, as you obviously have not.
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Shawn Prescott
i guess this explains the crotch sniffers…
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Kali
In response to “an honest chap”: First of all the theme of this discussion is not based on dogs “understanding” cancer, which is ridiculous. My dog can understand sit, come, belly, etc. We are talking about using one of their heightened senses, smell, to help detect cancer. We are not trying to replace doctors with dogs. I for one find it amazing that we are able to use our furry friends for the gifts they truly possess. If they can aid in detecting the smell of decomposition than why not cancer? Trust me anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer will agree than any additional help is appreciated. Unless you are God or have Einstein-like abilities try to be supportive…
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Nancy
I have a scottie. Almost 5 years ago my dog started acting strange at night.My dog always slept on my bed. 5 years ago my dog began having what we thought, panic attacks. He would sit at the end of the bed and stare at me. Sometimes he would pace back and forth.The vet put him on medication for awhile which seemed to help. Long story short. A few months later I was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
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Nasya
“Funny” that “joke” wasn’t “funny” at all. It was immature and stupid. Anyway, I think that dogs are certainly capable of detecting cancer and other sicknesses/diseases. Their noses are so many times stronger than our own sense of scent. And, Honest Chap, you may think you’re smarter than everyone, but, however, your ignoracy is blinding you. Dogs may not UNDERSTAND cancer, but they know it is hurting their “best man friend”. Stop acting like you’re smarter than everyone else, because obviously you aren’t. Just remember, dogs have the 6th sense.
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Nasya
Oh and Shawn, that was really immature too, I’m 13 and I can behave better than you. There wasn’t any need to post that. They smell crotches to “get to know” the person. Just in an innapropriate way…
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raychel
i have 5 miniture pinchurs and i just relized that wenever my blood sugars go low….my dogs sit around me.
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m
Yeah i agree with another comment. You obviously have insight but dont wave off other’s experiences as insignificant and insulting.
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3 comments:

cricketrs said...

“If dogs can smell cancer viruses, in humans, can they themselves(the dogs) become infected from smelling the virus samples?”
Ok ,if that wasn’t what he was trying to say,it is a good question I have pondered myself

Sharon Sakson said...

There is a book that covers all the studies that have been done so far of dogs detecting cancer, called PAWS & EFFECT: THE HEALING POWER OF DOGS. It's amazing what they've accomplished.

J♥ said...

thanks for all your kind comment on my blog ..love J♥