Thursday, February 23, 2017

Can You Sense Cancer? My Dog Can!

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Imagine a world where dogs were able to tell their owners that they had cancer? Crazy, I know right? Well there are actually many programs around that are training dogs to detect signs of early or late stages of breast cancer and lung cancer in humans. Although everyone may be a little scared to imagine having their dog come up to them one random sunny day and sniff their chest and bark because they’re trying to tell them that they have stage four lung cancer. That’s not really the reaction they’re trained to present. It’s more of a subtle, “Hi, I know this is scary but you have cancer, can I get a treat now?” type of reaction. In all seriousness however, the positive side to all of this is how they can detect even early stages so that the cancer can be treated earlier rather than later. Cool right?
So you might be wondering, “How they do it?” One study was done by training dogs over a three-week period and the dogs were exposed to several breath samples taken from different patients. Among the samples were 55 patients that had lung cancer, 31 patients that had breast cancer, and 83 that were healthy patients. The dogs were taught to give a positive sign for a patient with cancer. A positive sign was either sitting or lying down directly in front of the sample and a negative sign was simply ignoring the sample if it came from a healthy patient. This behavior was reinforced with treats so that the dogs were motivated to accurately perform the task asked by the trainer. The results revealed that they were able to detect lung and breast cancer in the samples with specificity between 88-97%
By simply detecting the early stages of cancer this has the ability to improve the chances of fighting cancer early rather than catching it in its much later stages. If this doesn’t convince you that a dog is a man’s best friend then I’m not sure what will.

Resources:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060106002944.htm
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/pets/9935073/How-my-beloved-dog-found-my-cancer.html

Posted by Ana Carolina Nepomuceno 

10 comments:

  1. Are these dogs actually trained to be able to detect cancer in people in the same way that dogs are trained to sniff out drugs? Or is it more like the dogs are trained to have certain responses to patients with cancer? If they are actually finding the cancer, I would love to know more about how it works, it seems impossible. I have heard of some dog stories where dogs know things before their owners, like a fire has started in their home, or a child is in danger and the dog knows to get help. But I have never heard of dogs detecting diseases, it's really incredible.

    Posted by Taylor Irwin (Group B)

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  2. This is such an interesting topic! My roommate brought it up to me one time and I always wondered about the research behind it but never looked into it. I’m very curious as to how the dogs are able to detect the cancer, and why they can specifically detect breast cancer and lung cancer. I think the high percentages of correct detection shows that the dogs really do have the ability to detect cancer rather than it just being chance. Dogs are so much more intelligent than people give them credit for.
    Posted by Hannah Jordan (2)

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  3. I have never heard of such a thing, but this would be truly incredible and save many lives. I hope we are able to make this a common practice. I am amazed that dogs are able to sense when individuals have cancer, it is just so cool! I wonder how they detect the cancer. Do you know if they are detecting symptoms or are they somehow smelling the tumor?

    Posted by Jenna Lansbur

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    1. Thanks for the interest Jenna! I was really amazed and hope that more investments go towards training dogs to detect cancer. Based on what I read, the dogs were trained to be able to smell the breaths of patients with cancer. From what I know, the patients who have cancer release a scent on their breaths which I assume is hormonal or a side effect of having cancer. Therefore, the dogs can smell the difference between a patient with cancer and a patient without cancer. This however, only applies for lung cancer and breast cancer.

      Posted by Ana Carolina Nepomuceno

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  4. This is so fascinating, are seems like very recent news. I see that it works for cancers such as breast and lung, but I am truly interested in any other potential cancers that not even dogs, but other animals may recognize. However, I don't see much of this research being funded to get various animals to recognize different cancers because it seems so far-fetched. Also, I wonder what defines the distinct "smell" that makes the dogs differentiate a healthy patient versus one with lung cancer for instance.

    Posted by Andrew Do (group A)

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  5. I think it's really interesting that dogs can detect lung and breast cancer in humans! I also think it's really interesting that breast and lung cancer cells give off a different odor than noncancerous cells. I wonder how scientists discovered that these cancerous cells give off a distinct odor and if other cancer cells also give a distinct odor.

    Posted by: Katie Kossack (Group B)

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  6. Dog's never seize to amaze me. This piece really made me laugh because of how much the treats depended on the dogs performance. But up to 97% accuracy rate from the dogs is a crazy number to even imagine, which further proves why their the best animal species in the world.

    Posted by: Givenchy Humes (group B)

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post! I was really interested in this study because I personally love dogs and find them truly helpful with all the work they do. They have been trained to be support dogs, service dogs, and now dogs that can help their owners discover that they have cancer.
      Posted by Ana Carolina Nepomuceno

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  7. I'm curious about the practical applications of this! So is the idea for all dogs to be trained to detect signs of cancer so that dog owners will have a way of knowing? I'm just curious as to how this knowledge will be applied! I'm not sure how many people actually bring in their dogs for basic puppy training since I don't have a dog, but if this were thrown in with regular dog training, I can see how it would be useful! I think it's so amazing, what dogs can be trained to do. Like Givenchy said, dogs never seize to amaze me!

    Posted by: Haley Huang

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