Dog senses woman’s breast cancer (BBC video, not April Fools)

Maureen noticed that her dog Max was behaving strangely. He was lethargic, not snuggling with her, and he kept poking his nose at her breast. (This is a real story, not an April Fool’s joke.)

She thought her dog was dying – he was 9 1/2 years old. But then one day she noticed a lump in her breast, didn’t think much of it, looked at the dog, he was glaring at her, and she decided to get it checked out. But a scan and mammogram came back negative. She had a biopsy done, and they found cancer.

After she got back from the cancer surgery, the dog was instantly back to his old self.

Max.

Max.

The BBC reports that “we now know that dogs like Max are smelling the tiny volatile chemicals given off by cancerous tumors.” Dogs have been trained to pick out cancer patients from their urine. And we know that dogs can smell when diabetics’ blood sugar is getting low, or when people with epilepsy are heading towards a seizure.

Some research suggests that, at least with some cancers, your breath may hold the clue.

One breath test was able to detect breast cancer with a 75% accuracy (this was down with a smelling machine, not an animal). In another, puppies were able to “distinguish between breath samples of lung- and breast-cancer patients and healthy subjects.” In fact, National Geographic says the dogs were able to detect the lung and breast cancers with a whopping 88% to 97% accuracy.

Dogs have also been able to “detect skin-cancer melanomas by sniffing skin lesions.”

I keep seeing different figures, but the National Geographic story says that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 better than our own.  I know my dog Sasha has a pretty good sense of smell, but it’s not anything like the beagles in the neighborhood.  Those dogs are insane with their noses.  Though Sasha still has gotten quite good at smelling when I have a small piece of dried dog treat sitting on a counter, which surprises me.  And I’m always amazed when meeting dogs in the park while walking Sasha, and the occasional dog goes right for my pants pocket where I keep the dry treats.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • http://www.SFDogWalker.com/ SFDogWalker

    Interesting comment, Becca … however, the study mentioned does confirm that dogs are accurate in detecting cancer!

    Anyway, it is an amazing story, I also wrote about it. Upon looking more
    into cancer-sniffing ability, I found out that there are InSitu, a
    non-profit dedicated to training dogs for the purpose, as well as
    UPenn’s Dog Working Center. Plus, there are microchips and software
    being developed to sniff cancers and other diseases!

  • Thom Allen

    Is that Bohdi Dog’s comment? You’ll need to teach him to type words.

  • Indigo

    Detecting cancer by its smell is amazing in itself, probably not as an actual diagnosis but more along the lines of an unpleasant smell that should be checked out. Sometimes, it is cancer. On the other hand, a sensitive human can spot cancer readily enough once exposed to the smell on a person already diagnosed. It’s not an accurate sense but rather an awareness of an odor that isn’t quite right. If you’ve experience cancer in your family, you probably have a sense of it already. I have, repeatedly, and it’s pretty obvious in that subtle way the nose has, but regardless of biomedical diagnosis, it’s easy enough to spot that something wrong. In the case of cancer, very wrong.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    That is amazing, but something even more remarkable about dogs is how much they love pleasing humans. And it’s why even though dogs have an astounding capability for smelling all kinds of things — including explosives and drugs and whatnot — they nevertheless often end up being truly lousy drug- and bomb-sniffers. Because they soon start picking up their handlers’ cues and realize they’ll get their treat or praise when ‘finding’ what their masters want (even if it’s not there) and negative reinforcement when ‘failing’ to find it.

    Before long, most of the dogs simply start reacting whenever their handlers want them to. A variant on the old ‘Clever Hans’ scenario.

    Anyway, that’s why I’d be skeptical as to whether dogs could be trained to detect and report accurately on cancer or other diseases. Sure — a lot of ‘em could probably detect. But be relied upon to report it accurately? We humans as ever are the weakest link.

  • 2karmanot

    +++++++

  • zerosumgame0005

    Is there any reason not to love dogs?

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