Dogs Recruited to Sniff Out Ovarian Cancer

Just as law enforcement has come to rely on the abilities of dogs to follow a scent the human nose cannot even detect, doctors believe dogs can help diagnose certain diseases based on the odor of the chemical makeup of the disease or changes in the odor given off by the person in question. Given this, a growing number of dogs are being specially trained to help develop diagnostic tests for certain illnesses through their superior sense of smell.

A Springer Spaniel named McBaine is one of several dogs at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia that have been taught to identify ovarian cancer tissue, much the same way drug dogs are taught to sniff out cocaine or marijuana. Dr. Cynthia Otto of the Center notes, “The great thing about dogs is not only are they more sensitive but they can filter things out.”

Ovarian cancer was a logical choice for this project because it has already been established that early ovarian cancer cells have special odors that can’t be identified by standard methods, because they blend with other odors in the tissues. But McBain and the other dogs consisting of Labs and German shepherds can recognize the cancer odor easily.

Dr. Otto explains, “We switch the sample location around just to make sure that we are very confident that they are detecting the cancer and not something else. We are trying to use the dogs to perfect the chemistry.”

Will dogs be used to walk through throngs of women in an effort to point out which ones have ovarian cancer? No. The goal is to use the dogs to slowly weed out the various odors a woman naturally puts out until the odor of the cancer is isolated. A test can then be developed to identify the presence of this odor as an early detecting procedure. Early protection is, of course, the key to curing cancer.

Dogs bring many things to our lives as pets. Now, it appears they may actually save us from a deadly form of cancer.

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