Can you smell in parts per trillion? That’s like one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools or 3 seconds out of 100,000 years. Stewie can, which is what makes it possible for him to sniff out cancer.
Stewie is an Australian shepherd who can nose out cancer accurately 98 percent of the time. Daisy, a 10-year-old Labrador who lives in England, has been recognized with a Blue Cross Medal for her work in cancer detection. She’s sniffed 6,500 samples and detected more than 550 cases. Currently, Daisy is training a team of 12 dogs at the head office of Medical Detection Dogs, one of the world’s leading organizations using animals to help spot serious illnesses. She is also serving as a “senior consultant” for the UK’s first-ever trial using dogs to detect breast cancer.
Meanwhile, at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, a Labrador retriever named Ffoster—yes, that’s two “f’s”— detects cancer in metal boxes containing blood samples in less than a minute. And in Milan, Italy, two German shepherds follow Stewie’s lead with a 98.1% accuracy rate detecting prostate cancer. With a pool of 677 subjects, that study stands as the largest to date, and its results, Bloomberg reported, dramatically improve upon the standard Prostrate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which has a false positive rate as high as 80 percent.
On Cancer’s Scent
How are Stewie, and Ffoster, Daisy and many others canines detecting cancers such as prostrate in urine samples and or in the scent of chemicals given off in cancer cells in your breath or skin?”
According to Medical Detection Dogs, “As yet we do not know exactly what it is the dogs can smell because they cannot tell us what markers they are sensing. We do know, however, that their sense of smell allows them to identify VOCs—volatile organic compounds—connected to many cancers.”
So could you train your dog to monitor your health and detect a cancer early?
Labs in the labs?
Do the success rates of dogs’ early identification of cancerous cells mean we’ll soon be seeing Labradors retrievers and Australian shepherds sniffing patients in medical laboratories? Not likely. As PBS News reported, researchers such as A.T. Charlie Johnson, a physicist at the University of Pennsylvania, are focused on developing an electronic nose device, or e-nose, that one day might be packaged and sold as pregnancy tests are now.
Until technology catches up with your Irish setter or Portuguese pointer, however, it’s important for you to keep up with regular screenings for prostate, lung, breast, and other cancers. And to help cover the costs of tests, you can depend on the Legionnaire Insurance Trust Cancer Care Insurance Plan to provide Wellness Care benefit when you need it.