Dogs Can Detect Lung Cancer With 97% Accuracy in New Study

The dogs used their extraordinary sense of smell to sniff out cancer from blood samples.

Jun 29, 2019

Dogs are beloved animals that only want to please.These intelligent and loyal companions make the best pets, as well as excellent therapy or service animals. But dogs have another skill that can also greatly improve our lives.

New research presented to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual meeting in April 2019 showed that dog's highly evolved sense of smell could be used harnesses to identify lung cancer in blood samples with around 97 percent accuracy. The results could lead to new inexpensive and noninvasive cancer screening for the leading cause of cancer death worldwide.

Dogs have 300 million smell receptors in their noses while people only have 6 million, so they are far more capable of detecting odors than we are. That is why dogs have been bred to be hunting dogs.

To conduct the research, Heather Junqueira, the lead researcher at BioScentDx, and her team used a form of clicker training for eight weeks to teach four beagles – a hunting breed – to distinguish between the blood samples of healthy patients and those with lung cancer. One of the dogs, named Snuggles, proved unmotivated to participate so only three were used for the study.

“We’re using the dogs to sort through the layers of scent until we identify the tell-tale biomarkers,” Thomas Quinn, DO, professor at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and lead author on this study said in a news release from the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

The dogs were led to a room with blood samples placed at nose level of both people who were diagnosed with lung cancer and people who are healthy. After sniffing a sample that was normal, the dogs were trained to move to the next but to stop and sit if they smelled a cancerous sample.

What was very impressive is that the dogs were able to detect cancer while it was still in the early stages which makes it more accurate than any other diagnostic tool available today.

The work from this double-blind study  has been published but it is far from over. “There is still a great deal of work ahead, but we’re making good progress,” said Quinn.

"This work is very exciting because it paves the way for further research along two paths, both of which could lead to new cancer-detection tools,” Junqueira said in the study. “One is using canine scent detection as a screening method for cancers, and the other would be to determine the biologic compounds the dogs detect and then design cancer-screening tests based on those compounds.”

BioScentDx plans to use canine scent detection in other studies, including an ongoing breast cancer study using breath sample.

“Right now, it appears dogs have a better natural ability to screen for cancer than our most advanced technology,” said Quinn in the AOA release. “Once we figure out what they know and how, we may be able to catch up.”

Cancer is not the only disease that dogs can help diagnose. Dogs are also being trained to predict and alert their charges when a seizure is about to happen. It appears that dogs really are man's best friend.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.