Can Dogs Detect Cancer?


We all know dogs are man’s best friend…but did you know they could also save your life from one of the deadliest diseases in America?

About four years ago, I met a foster couple who, at any given time, had approximately ten dogs in their home. Needless to say it was a very lively home and they found themselves in need of a little help. They asked me to have a sitter come by and make sure the pups got some play time during the day, and that’s exactly what I did until they moved away a few years later. But I  learned something during my time there that has stuck with me all these years.

About two months into the job I was told Cindy (the owner) had cancer, and because the doctor’s didn’t find it early on she would have to go through extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment. We all held on to hope but there was no guarantee she would live. When they gave me the news I asked how they found out she was ill. What were the signs? Cindy went on to tell me that she hadn’t been feeling well for some time now but the doctors had run tests and didn’t know what was wrong. So, how did they find out? “It was Bandit” (their Australian Shepherd), Cindy said. “He wouldn’t stop sniffing and scratching at [this part of my body] and would sometimes get so worked up he would whine and fuss until I had to put him outside. I decided I would go to the doctor one more time to find out why I’m not feeling well.” It’s a good thing she did. To this day, she gives Bandit the credit for saving her life. If it wasn’t for him, I’m certain she would not have made it.

This made me wonder, “Can dogs really detect cancer?” I started searching the cyber-world for stories similar to Cindy’s and this is what I found:

 Mammogram, “the gold standard in breast cancer detection” failed to detect Lisa Hulber’s malignant tumor. But Effie, her rescued hound mix, did. The dog whose life Hulber saved helped save hers after she sniffed her to the point where she decided to get double-checked.

This time, doctors found Hulber’s tumor, and did an excisional biopsy. But Effie was ahead of them again. She started sniffing around and apparently detected the only lymph node that had the cancer. Hulber underwent a double mastectomy and 20 weeks of chemotherapy, and will soon start radiation. Full Story

I also found reports of service dogs being trained to detect cancer in humans:

Daisy the labrador is hard at work on a project that could change your life and mine. In her smart red jacket, she wanders around a metal carousel in a small center outside Milton Keynes, sniffing at the different scents that are attached to its 12 spokes. Then she stops. She’s found what she’s looking for and looks expectantly up at her handler — she knows that when she recognizes this specific smell, she will soon get an edible reward.

While Daisy enjoys the process (and her dog biscuits) her actions are more than just a game — they have huge implications for all of us. Because what this seven-year-old dog is sniffing is a selection of samples from a local hospital. And she has just located the only one that came from a cancer patient.

Daisy, quite simply, is being taught to sniff out cancer. She is one of the world’s first bio-detection dogs — trained animals that may one day revolutionise medical diagnosis. Read more

Okay, so if dogs have the ability to sniff out cancer, How do they do it?

According to Shilo Urban, blogger on

Dogs were born to sniff; their noses dominate not only their faces (pugs notwithstanding) but also their brains. Even a miniature dachshund puppy has 25 times the scent receptors as a human — and bloodhounds twice as many as that. As much as humans see the world as we are, dogs smell the world as it is — and if it’s stinky, they roll in it.

This sharpened sense of smell in canines is a special instrument, and there has long been anecdotal evidence about dogs being able to smell diseases, particularly cancer. Perhaps a lady had a lump on her leg that her dog wouldn’t stop smelling, and when she finally had it examined by a doctor, it turned out to be cancer. Other such stories have percolated through health news columns for years.

But now the proof is finally here. In August, a study from German researchers showed that dogs are able to detect early-stage lung cancer better than any doctor or any fancy medical equipment.

Tests were held at Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany with four specially-trained dogs: Two German shepherds, a Labrador retriever and an Australian shepherd. Each dog was given a test tube to sniff that contained the breath of some 220 patients, some of whom had lung cancer and some of whom were cancer-free.  Full Report

If you haven’t already, schedule your annual mammogram or prostate exam today. Then make sure you take the time to grab some cuddles with man’s best friend. Who knows? It may end up saving your life.

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