Over the past decade, there has been mounting evidence that owning pets is extraordinarily good for your health. The stress relieving benefits of dog and cat ownership have been proven beyond doubt with low rates of chronic illnesses having been demonstrated in a number of studies.
Especially with dog ownership, it is almost a form of enforced exercise, but also the companionship of domestic animals is a proven stress reliever and often great therapy for those who are lonely. But, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association has demonstrated another benefit for our four-legged friends.
There is no doubt that the best treatment of cancer is early detection. Unfortunately, many of our screening studies are not overly accurate with a significant false positive and false negative rate. Also, many of the scans performed are expensive and not always 100% accurate.
This study involved training 3 beagle dogs to sniff out lung cancer from blood samples. As most of us are aware, the olfactory acuity (smelling ability) of a dog is 10,000 times more sensitive than that of a human being. A beagle, which is also known as one of the scent hounds has 225 million olfactory receptors compared with the human beings measly 5 million.
Following an 8 week training period, the dogs were exposed to a number of samples from patients with lung cancer and with those from healthy patients. The samples were placed in one room at a sniffable height and the dogs were trained to sit down if the sample contain the scent of lung cancer but to move on if the samples were considered normal. The extraordinary results showed that the dogs were accurate in predicting or excluding cancer with a 97% hit rate. Dogs are now being trained to detect early breast and colorectal cancer as well.
There has been research performed all over the world, but particularly in Israel, moving towards detecting early cancers with breath testing. These tests are detecting volatile organic compounds which are released into the breath in people with a variety of cancers. When the DNA mutates to become cancerous, protein fragments are released from the altered DNA which create a different footprint compared with people without cancer.
It may be that at some stage in the relatively near future, as part of a routine screening assessment we either blow into a bag to detect these volatile organic compounds or possibly we may see the day when trained beagle dogs, such as those that we see at airports to sniff out illegal drugs, are used in medical practices to detect early cancers. In our extremely high tech world where medical investigations and treatments are becoming incredibly sophisticated, there is something quite compelling about man’s best friend providing us with an even simpler solution.