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Cancer detecting dogs


What a horrible word. One we have come to dread these days. There is generally nothing pleasant that is ever associated with this word. It is estimated that nearly 7.5 million people die from some form of cancer every year. That is a devastating number. And, yet, the odds of survival once cancer has been detected today are much better than they were even 10 years ago. Every year we get closer to earlier diagnosis, better treatments and more optimistic chances of survival.

One of the most surprising things that is putting the survival rates on the rise is the ability of dogs to be able to detect cancer in humans.

Seems incredible, doesn’t it?

And, yet, when you think about it, dogs have been detecting slight changes in the human body’s chemistry for many years now. There are many therapy dogs out there that are specifically trained to let people know when they are about to have an epileptic seizure. It is not known exactly how the dogs detect the seizure but it has been hypothesized that they pick up on electrical cues, or smell a particular odor, or simply notice subtle visual changes that people fail to observe. The interesting note to this is that there are many people with epilepsy that have reported that their dogs were able to detect seizures from other rooms in the house so they could not depend solely upon visual or electrical cues.

So, though researchers are not yet certain exactly how dogs sensory works in area of detection, there is no denying that they have very capable abilities.

It has been many years since dogs were first discovered to have the ability to diagnosis cancer in humans. The first studies appeared around 1989 where it was found that dogs could detect bladder cancer, melanomas, as well as lung and breast cancer. Researchers have found that dogs have a 95 percent accuracy compared to biopsy confirmed diagnosis of cancers. Also, their sensitivity was 95 percent for all 4 stages of both lung and breast cancer. This indicates that, even if a cancer is in Stage 1, their accuracy was the same as if it was at a stage 4 cancer. That is a pretty significant finding considering that the earlier cancer is detected, the early the treatment can begin and, thus, the more positive the prognosis.

Early detection is always important but, when it comes to lung cancer, it is doubly so. Because lung cancer has so few symptoms, it makes it difficult for doctors to catch it early. Dogs that have been trained to detect lung cancer can pick up on different chemicals that are present in a human’s breath – even in the early stages. It’s also interesting to note that researchers in Japan reported that dogs could detect the presence of colon cancer in human breath and stool samples with nearly 90% accuracy; this is a success rate only slightly lower than a colonoscopy.

Let us hope that they continue to utilize the abilities found in these magnificent animals in the years to come. It would only be in our best interests to do so.

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