Trained dogs can accurately sniff out cancer in lungs and help in early detection, shows research

While beagles were used for the research project, the team is working with other breeds, and future plans include training dogs to detect other cancers such as prostate cancer, melanoma, and pancreatic cancer


                            Trained dogs can accurately sniff out cancer in lungs and help in early detection, shows research

Dogs can accurately sniff out lung cancer, reveals a new study. Three beagles — that were part of the research project — could successfully identify lung cancer by scent, a first step in identifying specific biomarkers for the disease, state researchers from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM), Bradenton, Florida.

After eight weeks of training, the two-year-old beagles were able to distinguish between blood serum samples taken from patients with malignant lung cancer and healthy controls with 97% accuracy.

Dr. Thomas A. Quinn from LECOM tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) that the beagles were selected for the study because they are a "member of the scent hound group who have a superior scent capability" and have other qualities such as sociability, temperament, and trainability.

"We are also working with other breeds that show great promise such as basset hounds, among others," he says, adding that their aim is to develop a safe and effective method of early detection of lung, breast and other forms of cancer.

The study, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, states that the dogs' abilities could lead to the development of effective, safe, and inexpensive means for mass cancer screening. It says early detection offers the best hope of survival in cancer, and dogs may help in developing over-the-counter tests capable of earlier detection.

"What is significant about this study is that it is the first step towards developing a practical, safe, low-cost, and highly effective method of detecting lung and other cancers. Dogs show potential to be able to detect cancer at an earlier stage than most conventional diagnostic methods and without exposure to radiation. Short of finding a cure for cancer, the best way to reduce the mortality and morbidity of this deadly disease, is early diagnosis. One of our goals is to show how canine scent detection can potentially change the paradigm of cancer detection in the future," Dr. Quinn tells MEAWW.

He further shares: "Our research at LECOM, Bradenton, in collaboration with BioScentDX, a canine training and research facility, has continued to progress in the early detection of additional cancers such as lung and colorectal cancers. Future plans include training dogs to detect other cancers such as prostate cancer, melanoma, and pancreatic cancer. We are also training dogs on the general cancer odor. In the near future, when our dogs detect the general cancer odor, the positive sample can then be presented to dogs trained to detect each specific cancer.  We should soon, from a single sample, be able to tell if the patient has cancer and also where the cancer is located."

For the current study, the dogs were led into a room with blood serum samples at nose level. While some samples came from patients with non-small cell lung cancer; others were drawn from healthy controls. After thoroughly sniffing a sample, the dogs sat down to indicate a positive finding for cancer or moved on if none was detected. A fourth beagle was removed from the study after she did not respond well to the training.

Dr. Quinn and his team are nearing completion of a second iteration of the study. In this, the dogs are working to identify lung, breast, and colorectal cancer using samples of patients' breath, collected by the patient breathing into a face mask. Researchers say the findings suggest the dogs are as effective detecting cancer using this method.

"Researchers at the LECOM/BioScentDX laboratory have also been using exhaled breath condensate as an equally effective way of detecting cancer. The patient, in their doctor's office or even in the privacy of their home, can collect the breath sample by breathing into a paper face mask. The mask is then mailed to the laboratory for examination by the dogs. There is no need for contact between the dogs and patients," Dr. Quinn tells MEAWW.

The team is also working on separating positive cancer specimens to try and isolate the biomarkers that the dogs are identifying in the cancer-positive samples. Once the biomarkers are isolated and identified, the team can move on to developing a test to identify these biomarkers. 

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide for both women and men. Thirteen percent of new cancers are a form of lung cancer, and more than 200,000 people in the United States receive a diagnosis of lung cancer annually. However, lung cancer is difficult to detect early because symptoms do not often appear until later stages. "If the biomarkers detected by the dogs could be isolated and identified, one could look at developing an over-the-counter screening product for early cancer detection, similar to a pregnancy test, in terms of cost, simplicity, and availability," say researchers.

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