Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Matt Rourke | The Associated Press) Jonathan Ball practices with Tsunami last August in the first round of training for a study that will eventually involve detecting cancerous tissue at Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia.
Dogs’ highly sensitive noses offer 90%-plus accuracy in sniffing out cancer
Health » Research is looking at how to copy the canine ability either with a machine or a chemical test.
First Published May 24 2014 09:47 pm • Last Updated May 24 2014 09:47 pm

Which is better at detecting cancer, a laboratory or a Labrador retriever?

Consider the talents of Tsunami, a regal-looking German shepherd with attentive eyes and an enthusiastic tail wag for her trainer friends. University of Pennsylvania researchers say she is more than 90 percent successful in identifying the scent of ovarian cancer in tissue samples, opening a new window on a disease with no effective test for early detection that kills 14,000 Americans a year. When found early, there’s a five-year survival rate of over 90 percent.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

With 220 million olfactory cells in a canine nose, compared with 50 million for humans, dogs have long helped in search-and-rescue missions. Now, a growing body of evidence supports the possible use of canines by clinicians. The largest study ever done on cancer-sniffing dogs found they can detect prostate cancer by smelling urine samples with 98 percent accuracy. At least one application is in the works seeking U.S. approval of a kit using breath samples to find breast cancer.

"Our study demonstrates the use of dogs might represent in the future a real clinical opportunity if used together with common diagnostic tools," said Gian Luigi Taverna, the author of the prostate cancer research reported Sunday at the American Urological Association in Boston.

While smaller studies have long shown dogs can sniff out a range of illnesses, the question of whether they can be used on a large-scale basis has drawn skepticism. Questions remain on whether one type of dog is better than another, how to systemize their use and the financial viability of any such system. As a result, most current research is looking at how to copy the canine ability to smell disease either with a machine or a chemical test.

"Our standardized method is reproducible, low cost and noninvasive for the patients and for the dogs," said Taverna, the head of urology pathology at Istituto Clinico Humanitas in Rozzano, Italy, in an email.

Taverna tested the ability of two professionally trained explosive detection dogs, Zoe and Liu, in 677 cases to assess their accuracy, according to his paper. The next step, according to Taverna, will be to extend the research into prostate cancer subgroups and to other urological malignancies.

The results may one day be used to help develop an electronic nose that follows nature’s lead in how a canine nose works, he said.

Taverna’s finding comes as standard PSA testing for prostate cancer is being challenged as not accurate enough, with false positives leading to unnecessary treatment.

In 2012, the Preventive Services Task Force, which reports on medical issues to the U.S. Congress, recommended that healthy men shouldn’t be screened for prostate cancer using PSA tests after research showed that false positive rates of men tested may be as high as 80 percent. The test measures a protein made by prostate cells called prostate-specific antigen.


story continues below
story continues below

When dogs sniff for cancer, they are detecting the chemicals emitted by a tumor. These chemicals are referred to as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs have been found in the breath of lung cancer patients and colon cancer patients, as well as in the urine of prostate cancer patients. The most recent findings have spurred increased interest in dog cancer- detection research, including efforts to develop devices that can mimic the animal’s exquisite olfactory system.

Dina Zaphiris, a nationally recognized dog trainer who works with canines on federally funded studies in detecting early cancer in humans, is leading the charge for Food and Drug Administration clearance of a system that would use the unique olfactory talents of dogs in medical care.

In 2009, Zaphiris, a dog trainer for 25 years with an extensive list of celebrity clients and an education in biology, founded the In Situ Foundation, a nonprofit organization that trains cancer-sniffing dogs and conducts research in the field.

Her organization is submitting an FDA application for approval of a canine medical scent detection kit. In her system, patients exhale through a tube on to a cloth, which captures molecules, or VOCs, of a malignancy. Trained dogs would then sniff the cloths for their presence.

The dog screening would be an "early warning test," she said, possibly used in connection with a mammogram for reviewing results before proceeding to a biopsy.

"You should see the amount of emails I get saying ‘I got an unclear mammogram and I don’t know if I want a biopsy so could I have dogs screen my breath sample?’," Zaphiris said.

Zaphiris’s interest in the issue began in 2003 when she worked with a research group on a study to detect breast and lung cancer. A paper on that limited study, published in 2006 in the Journal of Integrative Cancer Therapies, found that dogs could detect lung tumors with 99 percent sensitivity and 99 percent specificity; for breast tumors, results were 88 percent sensitivity and 98 percent specificity.

Now Zaphiris is working with Jeffrey Marks, an associate professor of surgery and pathology at Duke University to train dogs to detect breast cancer, she said. It takes about six weeks to teach a dog for a study, and Zaphiris says she usually trains a new team of canines for each one, working at her 3-acre facility in West Hills, California.

Zaphiris isn’t alone in her quest to get dogs involved in medical care. At the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, researchers are studying whether dogs can find ovarian cancer in tissue and blood samples. If so, it would be a breakthrough for a difficult disease.

"We’re trying a multiprong approach," including the dogs and laboratory efforts, "to determine if there’s some signature in blood in women with ovarian cancer so we can develop a detection system," said Cindy Otto, director of the university’s Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia. "We’re using the dogs because we know the dogs are much more sensitive than any of our chemical techniques."

The goal of the research is to one day produce a new screening system or electronic sensor to detect ovarian cancer’s odor signature, Otto said.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.