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Medicine Science

Study Shows Dogs Can Sniff Out Lung Cancer 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the still-confused-by-pretending-to-throw-tennis-balls dept.
cylonlover writes "Last year, researchers developed a cancer-detecting electronic nose inspired by dogs' ability to sniff out different types of ovarian cancer. Now a new study has found that sniffer dogs' abilities extend to reliably detecting lung cancer. The researchers say the results of the study (abstract) confirm that there is a stable marker for lung cancer, which offers the possibility that a 'breath test' for the early detection of lung cancer could be developed."
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Study Shows Dogs Can Sniff Out Lung Cancer

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do I have lung cancer in my crotch ??

  • by Aighearach (97333) on Friday August 19, 2011 @05:48PM (#37148522) Homepage

    I wonder how many dogs out there are sitting around mumbling, "I've been trying to get her to go to the doctor for 10 years!"

  • by camperdave (969942) on Friday August 19, 2011 @05:48PM (#37148534) Journal
    You mean that device that McCoy waves over people before he says they're dead Jim is an electronic nose?
  • Will it work for colon cancer? (YUCK! Fart analyzer)

  • I can do that. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by trout007 (975317)

    If your breath smells like an ashtray I'm pretty sure you got cancer.

  • by NerveGas (168686) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:04PM (#37148662)

    One of my dogs has, over the past six years, demonstrated an absolute 100% track record in sniffing out whether women are pregnant. He's never given a single false positive, or a false negative. It's not something I've trained, he does it on his own. And to make it even more impressive, at the point when he gave the earliest signal on one woman, we later found out (through the doctor's ultrasound and dates) that it was just three days after conception. As for cancer, they've been known to accurately sniff it out for years now.

    The canine nose is an amazing thing. But that's not the entire story, the amount of their brain that they dedicate to processing smell is huge compared to humans. In terms of the percentage of brain dedicated, they use something like 10-30 times more of their brain for smelling than we do. Smell is, quite literally, their primary sense, in the same way that sight is ours. The saying that "Dogs don't smell a cake, they smell each ingredient" is, quite literally, correct. In using dogs for scent detection, the biggest challenge is usually just our ability to isolate the desired scent to present to the dog, doing the rest is easy for the dog.

    The real oddity here is not that dogs have good noses... a ton of animals do. Humans are actually the oddity. There seems to be a negative correlation between intelligence and smelling ability, perhaps because having lots of rational thought takes enough brain space that smelling gets pushed aside. Whatever the reason, looking at primates, as you go up in intelligence, smelling ability goes downhill. We shouldn't be so amazed that dogs can do what they do, but saddened that we can't do the same.

    • by danlip (737336)

      Smell is often described as the most emotional sense - and instinct is pretty similar to emotion. Being able to override instinct and emotion with reason is pretty damn useful. Also humans have excellent vision and visual processing abilities, which maybe pushed out smell as the primary sense.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you didn't train him, how does he let you know?

      • by NerveGas (168686)

        One lucky "recipient" described it like this:

        "It was like I was riding his nose around the house."

    • by Rei (128717)

      Yeah, but how creepy is it, having a doctor tell you, in as couched terms as possible of course, "The dog smells death on you"? I mean, I guess it could be worse; they could bring in a vulture to do the job (most vultures have an excellent sense of smell as well). Or the doctor could name the dog after the Cn Annwn [wikipedia.org] ;)

      As for the whole intelligence/smell inverse correlation, it seems to hold with parrots. The research I've read suggests that parrots (among the most intelligent of birds, up there with the c

    • The real oddity here is not that dogs have good noses... a ton of animals do. Humans are actually the oddity. There seems to be a negative correlation between intelligence and smelling ability, perhaps because having lots of rational thought takes enough brain space that smelling gets pushed aside.

      According to Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish, the trade-off that human ancestors made was the ability to have better color vision (not intelligence) than smell.

    • Actually humans have a pretty decent but not spectacular sense of smell.

      The biggest issue is having a nose that's over a meter off the ground.

      • The biggest issue is having a nose that's over a meter off the ground.

        That matters only if the object you're sniffing is on the ground. But very often the object is way above the dog yet they can still very precisely smell it.

        I don't know how well humans fare against the whole of animal kingdom, but atleast compared to dogs our smelling capabilities are literally laughably poor. My family has always had dogs ever since I was small, and I even have a dog right now myself, and I've seen some of the stuff they can pull off: humans can't get even near.

      • by Urkki (668283)

        Actually humans have a pretty decent but not spectacular sense of smell.

        The biggest issue is having a nose that's over a meter off the ground.

        Considering where dogs (and many other animals) set the bar, humans do not have "pretty decent" sense of smell. Humans maybe have "not the worst" sense of smell, but it's not very decent. I mean, just observing dogs, there's an entire world we're oblivious to. It's more than seeing just black&white versus colors, it's probably more like... being able to enjoy fine nuances of music versus being able to notice Richter 3 earthquake.

        • by dkf (304284)

          Humans maybe have "not the worst" sense of smell, but it's not very decent.

          Actually it's pretty good. It's just that we mostly ignore it and our noses are usually not that close to where the scents are. Perhaps if you paid more attention to what you've got and weren't so stuck up with your nose in the air, you'd figure things out better. Yes, dogs are still better at scents. So? We see better than dogs. It doesn't prove that much other than relative acuities in two senses between two species.

          • by Urkki (668283)

            "So" nothing special, it's just biology. I guess if you drew a suitably logarithmic scale for sense of smell based on whatever measuring method, you could drag human sense of smell into "pretty good" region, but then practical difference between "good" and "excellent" becomes ridiculously large. But meh, this level of classification is of course subjective, matter of opinion.

    • The real oddity here is not that dogs have good noses... a ton of animals do. Humans are actually the oddity. There seems to be a negative correlation between intelligence and smelling ability, perhaps because having lots of rational thought takes enough brain space that smelling gets pushed aside.

      This is going to come off wrong, but I can tell when a woman is on her period. To say it's a "smell" is a bit offensive, it's more like a pheromone. It's just sort of an emotion/feeling. Akin to my feeling of where North is. I can't describe it, I can't explain it, but it's 100% dead on. (Hardest time is getting close enough friends to ask the question).

      • Yup, and I can sense heart problems. It isn't so much a smell for me, it's a sense of taste. Weird that people can develop these capabilities as well.
    • by sohare (1032056)

      One of my dogs has, over the past six years, demonstrated an absolute 100% track record in sniffing out whether women are pregnant. He's never given a single false positive, or a false negative.

      I take it you have not heard about confirmation bias [wikipedia.org], have you?

      • by Khyber (864651)

        I take it you haven't seen the multiple studies that show that this isn't some bias but an actual demonstrable ability?

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      ...The real oddity here is not that dogs have good noses... a ton of animals do. Humans are actually the oddity. There seems to be a negative correlation between intelligence and smelling ability, perhaps because having lots of rational thought takes enough brain space that smelling gets pushed aside. Whatever the reason, looking at primates, as you go up in intelligence, smelling ability goes downhill. We shouldn't be so amazed that dogs can do what they do, but saddened that we can't do the same.

      Not so sure it had to do with intelligence as much as it had to do with evolutionary needs. A caveman's sense of smell was directly tied to his ability to survive and hunt/find food. Today, we go to Wal-Mart to "hunt", where all we smell is the stench of cheap imported goods. No wonder our sense of smell kind of died off.

  • If dogs can sniff out cancer, than that means that certain cells have a "scent," otherwise the dogs are probably just smelling cigarette smoke. But say they can "smell" certain cells and differentiate them from others. Well, there is a lot more research to be done there...can they sniff out heart-attacks before they happen, by smelling someone's breath and determining their risk factor? Can they sniff out diseases and prevent epidemics by someone's breath? Smell may in fact be the key to the next-genera
    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Informative)

      by reverseengineer (580922) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:42PM (#37148956)
      Cancer cells are known to be different in terms of having a scent. Cancer cells tend to have deranged metabolic processes as a result of keeping up with the demands of uncontrolled growth, and as a result often spew free radicals and reactive byproducts that damage compounds in the cell, breaking them down to simple alkanes and alkenes which are vanishingly scarce in healthy cells. These compounds are volatile enough to be detected by gas analysis methods, or by scent, if you happen to have a dog available.
  • ...so it's not like they're all powerful.

  • by bmo (77928) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:14PM (#37148748)

    ....Oscar the Cat is still sniffing out dying people.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/02/02/us-cat-death-idUSTRE6115QB20100202 [reuters.com]

    Sniffing out cancer in the breath of someone who has lung cancer does not surprise me.

    --
    BMO

  • Now if we can teach them to sniff out stupid and criminally inclined, we can run all our politician through and subsequently assign them tasks according to their level of reliability. With this technology we could have put George Bush Jr. in charge of the White House garden, and Dick Cheney in charge of the White House laundry (no you don't need Haliburton to get clean white sheets!)

  • I've also seen multiple reports of dogs detecting early-stage malignant melanomas (virulent skin cancer) on their owners.

    The person finds the dog is suddenly licking a particular spot on their arm or leg. They go to the doctor and find themselves being sent to surgery ASAP.

    Also, not quite colon cancer, but there have been successful tests on the detection of bladder cancer by a dog sniffing urine samples. I hope they give that doggie some extra treats.

  • It sounds like the breath test already exists. How hard is it to train these dogs?
  • My dog can give you lung cancer if you sniff him out.
  • Now that this has been confirmed, the trolls will file patents for dogs, and we all will be screwed.
  • why not just use highly trained dogs? They're far more accurate. and far cheaper.

    A box of milk bones is cheaper than a $900 test for my insurance company.

  • would occasionally bark and paw at her side, we'd laugh, crazy dog. But then she started having pain in the same area. About a year and a half later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer (she never smoked). The schnauzer died of leukemia before she passed away. I miss them both horribly.
  • In recent years, skin diseases in dogs and cats occupy a leading place among the diseases that occur in these species
  • I am glad I have dogs that will let me know if i have cancer...now if i can just get them to sniff out my buried treasure which i forgot the location...

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