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.
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.