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.
Posted by Ana Carolina Nepomuceno