Author: Amna Siddiqui
We all are aware of the fact that dogs have an incredible sense of smell, being used to track down missing people, sniff your luggage at the airport, etc. However, did you know that dogs are capable of detecting cancer? Although the idea was proposed in 1989 for melanomas, the concept is highly fascinating.
In Wisconsin, a woman facing abdominal pain noticed her husky sniffing her belly. After a doctor had denied any thought of serious disease, proclaiming the pain to be ovarian cysts, the woman went to a gynecologist after her dog’s stranger behavior and was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. Her dog had effectively diagnosed her cancer by merely smelling it.
This phenomenon is due to dogs’ olfactory (smell) receptors, as they have over 300 million of them, compared to humans, who have about 6 million. So when someone has cancer, a dog can smell the cancer cells or volatile organic compounds. Although dogs are not capable of specifically identifying molecules, they have a general instinct. In ovarian cancer, these compounds are typically detected through body odorants (research is also using blood samples); in lung cancer, these compounds are typically detected through exhaled breath; in prostate cancer, these compounds are typically detected through urine; etc.
Further research has also shown that dogs can smell COVID-19, as portrayed in a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Several dogs ranging in age were trained to detect COVID in urine samples, reacting to a positive sample.
Although there are several groups training dogs to detect human diseases, like the Medical Detection Dogs in the U.K, the research behind this unique potential still has a long way to go.
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