Today is World Cancer Day - How can dogs help us beat cancer?
Cancer is a word we all dread hearing whether it's affecting a friend, a loved one or ourselves personally. There are many cancer charities out there that work tirelessly to raise funds for diagnosis, research and treatment to help those affected by it, and with World Cancer day on the horizon it nudged my memory about an article I had read aeons ago, not sure where or when, about dogs detecting cancer in humans with their nose. It sparked a renewed interested in whether there was any truth that these already amazing animals had yet another string to their bow!
It’s no big secret that dogs have an excellent sense of smell – certainly much better than our human noses. What if Dogs really can do that for us? Of course, when you consider the numbers, it makes sense that a dog’s nose is capable of such a feat…
Dogs have 25 times more smell receptors than humans, boosting their smelling ability by 100,000 times. The brain of a human is dominated by the visual cortex, but the brain of a dog is controlled by the smell or olfactory cortex, which is approximately 40 times larger than that of a human. Furthermore, the olfactory bulb in a dog has a large number of smell-sensitive receptors, which range between 125 to 220 million, and it is a hundred thousand to a million times more reactive than that of humans.
OK, dogs have a great sense of smell. But how does that translate to being able to detect cancer? How Can Dogs Sniff Out Cancer?
I found an article from Dogs Naturally magazine which was written in 2006 that suggested
"Studies of dogs and cancer detection are based on the fact that cancerous cells release different metabolic waste products than healthy cells in the human body. The difference of smell is so significant that the dogs are able to detect it even in the early stages of cancer. Dogs are able to identify the chemical traces in the range of parts per trillion. Furthermore, some researchers have proven that dogs can detect prostate cancer by simply smelling patients’ urine. Dogs may also be able to sniff out the presence of cancerous cells through a human’s breath."
It also quoted six independent studies that had been done in different countries that seemed to support the evidence. The full article can be found by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.
Of course this was a long time ago and we've come a long way scientifically since then so I searched for more recent evidence that dogs can be used to sniff out cancer and came across an American company in California devoted entirely to dogs detecting cancer. The Insitu Foundation, their link is below, it's worth a look at what they do, I found it fascinating!
They have 5 dogs , Stewie, Leo, Charlie, Linus and Alfie. In Situ Foundation has been dedicated to scientifically training dogs to detect early stage cancer in humans for over 12 years. They are the leading experts in the field of training cancer detection dogs, and were among the first to participate in published research, setting the bar for future studies on the subject and has spent thousands of hours, spanning many years, developing the scientific protocols that are needed to train cancer detection dogs and their handlers.
An article on their blog says:
"Yes, dogs can smell cancer. They can even smell it “in situ”, or at stage zero.
Dogs can smell in parts per trillion. An example of this is: one cc of blood, diluted into 20 olympic sized swimming pools. We have trained dogs to sniff gun powder, narcotics, missing persons, and now, finally, diseases. The interesting part about this is that cancer absolutely has a smell. There are many published studies that prove dogs can detect cancer through breath samples, and scientists and doctors are trying to come up with a breathalyser test that works as good as the dogs nose.
Training dogs to smell cancer is done in the same way that bomb and narcotics dogs are trained, pairing the target odour with a high value reward. With breath, however, things can get a little tricky. Remember, drugs and gun powder can be isolated, but “cancer scent” is one of the thousands of organic compounds within a humans breath. In order for the dogs to generalise the “cancer scent”, many samples with the common odour must be used. Also, the dogs must be trained to ignore healthy breath, and all other breath with diseases other than cancer. This means samples. LOTS of samples to use for the dogs training. Cancer samples, disease controls and healthy controls are needed, and the order and specifics of the introduction of cancer through latter stage training is extremely specific, in order for the dog to generalise the cancer scent. Right now, the important thing to remember is that dogs can smell cancer and it can save your life."
So what are we doing in the UK about this little known secret?
This is where the charity Medical Detection Dogs comes in. They are a registered charity that was set up in the UK in 2008 after several clinical trials from 2004 onwards. Medical Detection Dogs trains dogs to detect the odour of human disease. It is at the forefront of the research into the fight against cancer and helping people with life-threatening diseases. Their Bio-Detection Dogs are trained to find the odour of diseases, such as cancer, in samples such as urine, breath and swabs. Their Medical Alert Assistance Dogs are trained to detect minute changes in an individual’s personal odour triggered by their disease and alert them to an impending medical event.
The charity has a no-kennel policy. All the bio-detection dogs live in homes as part of a caring family with fantastic volunteer fosterers, and lead normal, happy lives as pet dogs. They are dropped off in the morning and picked up in the evening after work. The charity is wholly reliant on donations and receives no government funding. How much does it cost to train a dog? The total cost of training and placing a Medical Alert Assistance Dog is £13,000. The total cost of training a Bio Detection Dog is £11,500 with an ongoing monthly cost of £600.
These dogs are real life Super Heros and Medical Detection Dogs is celebrating it's 10th Birthday this year. To continue their ground-breaking work they require donations and even have an amazon wish list! Click here to see it https://www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk/amazon-wishlist/
We're all keen to sponsor a friend that's doing a 5KM run or taking part in a tough Mudder, Park Run or Moonwalk. I've done the Moonwalk twice and there's always an envelope going round for sponsorship something or other. But next time I do a sponsored event I'm going to raise for these guys. As a nation of pet lovers who already know how amazing these beautiful animals can be and how much they already give us unconditionally, I hope you think about raising for them too! Together with your funding, their loyalty and the medical expertise of professionals we can save lives!
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