Can These Dogs Really Sniff Out Cancer?

Meet some of the pups who are putting their noses to the test in one of the largest canine cancer detection studies ever.

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Lucy is one of several dogs taking part in a study to detect cancer.  Via CNN
Lucy is one of several dogs taking part in a study to detect cancer. Via CNN

Dogs are known for sniffing out crime suspects, drugs and, of course, food when you sit down to eat. But a new study is showing that their powerful noses are smelling their way to help detect cancer.

The British organization Medical Detection Dogs has enlisted eight dogs in one of the largest clinical trials of canine cancer detection, reports CNN. As part of the study, the dogs are tasked with sniffing 3,000 urine samples from National Health Service patients to see if they can tell which patients have cancer.

One of the dogs participating in the study — a Labrador Retriever-Irish Water Spaniel mix named Lucy — spent seven years learning how to sniff out bladder, kidney and prostate cancer, reportedly being able to accurately detect cancer more than 95 percent of the time.

Treats for correct selections! Via CNN

Lucy receives treats for correct selections! Via CNN

Canine noses are known to have “300 million sensors, compared with a human’s measly 5 million,” according to the CNN report. Additionally, they have a second smelling device called Jacobson’s organ located at the back of their noses. This is what supposedly allows trained dogs to identify unique odors.

Researchers of this current British study want to make sure the dogs are actually smelling cancer and not something else, such as old age, CNN reports. To that end, they will have the dogs circle a carousel holding seven evenly-spaced urine samples to see if the pooches can find the one that contains urine from a cancer patient. One of the seven also will contain a sample from an individual about the same age as the cancer patient, but who only displays cancer symptoms and doesn’t actually carry the disease.

"Me! I'm next ... I'm next," Midas seems to say as she waits her turn. Via CNN

“Me! I’m next … I’m next,” Midas seems to say as she waits her turn. Via CNN

Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, told the news organization that her Labrador Daisy caught her own breast cancer when she was 45, about six years ago.

“She kept staring at me and lunging into my chest. It led me to find a lump,” Guest said, adding that the location of the tumor would have placed her in an advanced stage by the time she was able to feel it on her own. “Had it not been drawn to my attention by Daisy, I’m told my prognosis would have been very poor.”

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