Can Dogs Really Detect Cancer?
Our dogs hold such a special place in our hearts and would do anything for us. For example, they guard our homes in exchange for food, a warm place to sleep, and lots of love. While it's great that our dogs guard our home, they also guard something even more important - our health.
Dogs are able to detect cancer through their sense of smell. The way this works is they're trained to smell the chemicals that cancer cells produce. Because dogs are trained to do this, an early diagnosis of the disease can be made, which means many lives will be saved.
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Studies have shown that dogs can successfully identify bladder and melanoma cancers in those suffering from the condition. But in 2006, researchers conducted a study at the Pine Street Foundation in Marin County, California, led by Michael McCulloch, and the results were quite impressive. Researchers discovered that dogs could detect breast and lung cancer with 99% accuracy. Amazing!
This particular study included 86 cancer patients that had recently been diagnosed with the disease (smokers and non-smokers) and 83 healthy volunteers. Each person gave breath samples that were captured inside of tubes. The tubes were then presented to the dogs individually. If the dogs detected cancerous scents, they would simply sit or lie down in front of the samples. If they didn't detect cancerous scents, they would ignore the breath samples. Of course the dogs were rewarded with tasty treats when they responded appropriately.
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Stories of dogs detecting cancer in humans have made headlines for years. Listed below are a couple of cases in which dogs were able to detect that their owners did in fact have cancer.
- Case 1 - A border collie constantly sniffed the mole on his owner's inner thigh. After her dog did this for an extended period of time, the owner decided to make an appointment with her doctor to get the mole checked out. It turned out that the dog's owner had melanoma and luckily she went to her doctor when she did because the cancer was still in an early stage. The border collie saved his owner's life.
- Case 2 - A Labrador retriever continuously pushed his nose against a sore on his owners leg. When the owner had the sore checked out by his doctor, he found out he had basal cell carcinoma - a form of skin cancer. The Labrador retriever was letting his owner know the sore needed to be checked out, and now the owner is doing great!
Now, does all of this research mean that every hospital or doctor's office in the future will be equipped with a dog that's able to detect cancer? No. But for now, researchers are hoping that one day scientists will develop a machine that's able to perform the same function as a dog's nose. The machine would be used to screen breath and urine samples.
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No dog will ever be 100% accurate, but it's safe to say that there's no machine at this very moment that's able to do what dogs are doing. And who knows? Maybe some day dogs will be able to help detect cancer from the comfort of the doctor's office, but only time will tell.