Of all animals, so far, the evidence shows that dogs and cats are the best to detect early stage cancer in humans. Animal detection is an approach to cancer screening that relies upon the olfactory ability of dogs to detect, notably in urine or in breath, very low concentrations of the alkanes and aromatic compounds generated by malignant tumors. They are trained by sniffing urine samples of people with cancer and rewarded when they single out these samples from other urine from non-cancer sufferers. Malignant cells produce changes in volatile organic compounds, and it’s these compounds which dogs are believed to detect in urine. Dogs can detect odours at concentrations as low as one part per trillion, identifying scents which the human nose could never detect. Humans have five million sensor receptors dedicated to smell while dogs have 300 million (Source). Cats have also been shown to detect cancer via the olfactory senses (Source), including with the elderly (Source)
In a 2006 study, it was showed that dogs could detect cancer at a 99% accuracy rate regarding lung cancer. (1) In a 2011 study, lung cancer was identified with a sensitivity of 71% and a specificity of 93%, using breath samples. (2) Other studies, also with breath samples, have found good evidence. (3).
Some research labs are starting to produce breathalyzers which change colour according to the compounds in the breath, indicating the presence of cancer. (4) However, these tests are still not conclusive and are bound to be expensive, let alone have they been proven to be superior to a well trained motivated dog or cat sniffer.
At the ACR Institute, we are working in getting at least one dog and one cat that can be trained in this skill for the benefit of early detection, monitoring and immuno-boosting. It will be up to the patient and his or her oncologists to follow-up or not with other exams.
By using dogs and cats, we go beyond detection, since canine and feline play and warmth have also shown to strengthen the immune system and the patient’s will to live and prevail. As such, these cancer “detection tools” can also be healing ones, quite a feat when we know that biopsies and other invasive methods like mammograms and CT scans detect late, without good accuracy and with collateral damage that tends to weaken the host’s vitality.
PRECISION AND REFERENCE NOTES
(1). McCulloch M, Jezierski T, Broffman M, Hubbard A, Turner K, Janecki T (2006). “Diagnostic accuracy of canine scent detection in early- and late-stage lung and breast cancers”. Integrative cancer therapies 5 (1): 30–9.
(2). Ehmann R, Boedeker E, Friedrich U; et al. (August 2011). “Canine scent detection in the diagnosis of lung cancer: Revisiting a puzzling phenomenon”. Eur Respir J 39 (3): 669–76.
(3). “Dogs Smell Cancer in Patients’ Breath, Study Shows”. National Geographic News. 12 January 2006. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
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