Researchers have found another use for our pooch pal’s schnoz: detecting early-stage ovarian cancer. It turns out that dogs can detect the smell resulting to chemical compounds that make up early stages of the cancer.
Currently more than 20,000 Americans are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Unfortunately, due to generic symptoms like bloating, weight gain, and constipation, many women are accurately diagnosed long after the cancer has spread.
However, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Work Dog Center have found that early stages of ovarian cancer may have a unique smell that dogs can sniff out. Women who develop the cancer early have a five-year survival rate of 90 percent.
Using donated blood and tissues samples from ovarian cancer patients, Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center is training three dogs, McBaine, a springer spaniel; Ohlin, a Labrador retriever; and Tsunami, a German shepherd, to smell the signature chemical compounds that indicate the presence of ovarian cancer.
Scientists at the nearby Monell Chemical Senses Chemical Center are hoping that if a dog can pin-point the chemical marker, they will be able to create an electronic sensor that will help identify the smell as dogs can.
“Because if the dogs can do it, then the question is, “Can our analytical instruments do it?” We think we can,” said George Preti, Monell organic chemist.
Dogs have also been able to successfully detect bladder cancer by sniffing urine, sense low and high blood sugar levels in diabetics, and predict seizures in epileptics.
Using the knowledge that previous scientists have learned about the smells dogs can sense that health conditions emit, Philadelphia researchers will build on the idea that early-stage ovarian cancer alters odorous compounds in the body as well.
Even though the doggie olfactory senses have not yet made any major breakthroughs for ovarian cancer, the American Cancer Society hopes it may one day become a useful routine for patient care. But Cindy Otto, director of the Working Dog Center, hopes they can make the concept a reality soon with the three dogs they’ve been training.
“If we can figure out what those chemicals are, what that fingerprint of ovarian cancer is that’s in the blood — or maybe even eventually in the urine or something like that — then we can have that automated test that will be less expensive and very efficient at screening those samples,” said Cindy Otto, director of the Working Dog Center.
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