Dogs have long been praised for their superior sense of smell, but in recent years this praise has segued into medical attention and research. From alerting a diabetic owner to high or low blood sugar levels to being able to sniff out volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with different types of cancers, dogs have been able to help doctors diagnose and monitor certain human patients.

In 2010, a study detailed how specifically trained dogs were able to sniff out VOCs in the urine samples of prostate cancer patients. This study, however, was quite limited and involved only 33 patients. Therefore, an Italian team of researchers subsequently undertook a greater study to determine the dogs’ accuracy in detecting prostate cancer using a larger sample size.

In their study, the Italian team employed two specifically trained dogs to detect VOCs specific to prostate cancer in urine samples obtained from 677 patients. Of the 677 samples, 320 had been diagnosed with prostate cancer of varying severity—from low-risk to metastasic. The remaining 357 samples were healthy controls.

What they found was inspiring. Working within an environment free of any olfactory distractions, the researchers found that the dogs were able to sniff out VOCs indicating the existence of prostate cancer with 98% accuracy.

While tests exist currently to aid medical professionals in early detection of prostate cancer, such tests are not always accurate or dependable. With the high level of accuracy evidenced by dogs in this study, medical professionals may be able to utilize specially trained dogs to aid them in the detection of prostate cancer in the future. Skepticism remains, however, regarding how dogs would be managed in a clinical setting and how the process would be systematized and budgeted for.

Comments (1) -

5/31/2014 12:41:13 PM #

Yes, wonderful and amazing what dogs can do. My concern is that they will be kept in cages and treated as research objects rather than the faithful and loving companions they are. If medical facilities can guarantee humane and caring staff placements for these dogs so that they live good lives in people's homes, then great. If hospitals put them in cages and bring them out only to sniff urine, then it would have been better had we not known about their incredible skills.

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