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They’re man’s best friend, but dogs, it turns out, may also be a doctor’s newest secret weapon for detecting cancer. One clinic in Germany has trained dogs to do this important work.
This German shepherd can sniff out with great reliability whether a person has lung cancer – from a sample of the person’s breath.
The dogs are trained to lie down when they detect a cancer sample and can look forward to receiving a treat.[Uwe Friedrich, Dog Trainer]:
“We trained the dogs via positive stimulation. So the smell of cancer is regarded as lucrative, positive by our dogs. We trained them to lie down when they sniff a cancer sample. And that worked through positive stimulation. We had a large amount of samples, more than 200, and the dogs had to differentiate between cancer and not cancer.”
Because lung cancer seems to have a specific combination of odors, the scientist thought of using the very fine nose of dogs to detect it.
And the dogs have a huge advantage compared to “normal” electronic noses.[Enole Boedeker, Chest Surgeon]:
“The electronic noses are extremely sensitive to influences like diet, like what the people drank, if they drank alcohol, or if they smoke cigarettes. And the dogs just don’t bother. They can easily find the lung cancer beside all other influences.”
The dogs can also detect a difference between patients who have been suffering for some time from lung cancer compared to those who have just recently fallen ill.
While there has been some precedent for disease-sniffing dogs – in other studies, they have had anywhere from 40 to 90 percent success in accurately identifying cancers including bladder and colon cancers.
They also have the ability to sniff out low blood sugar levels among diabetics.