A new study out of Germany shows that dogs can predict the presence of early lung cancer in a human’s body just by sniffing his or her breath. The dogs were able to accurately sniff out tumors in 71% of patients in a German hospital, making scientists hopeful that dogs could be used in early detection of lung cancer. It can be difficult to diagnose lung cancer in its early stages, so any new techniques could help with screening and save lives.
“In the breath of patients with lung cancer, there are likely to be different chemicals to normal breath samples and the dogs’ keen sense of smell can detect this difference at an early stage of the disease,” said Thorsten Walles, the lead researcher.
After smelling the breath of over 200 volunteers including healthy people, lung cancer patients and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the dogs were able, incredibly, to detect lung cancer even in the presence of other scents like tobacco smoke. Current lab tests can’t do this. The fact that the dogs were so often correct leads researchers to believe that there is a volatile organic compound (VOC) directly associated with lung cancer.
According to Science Daily, “VOCs are emitted from the surface of cells as they undergo tumor-induced gene and protein changes. Identifying the VOCs that certain cells make can go a long way toward early diagnosis, when a scan might not be able to detect anything.”
There’s still more work to be done, but Walles says he’s confident that there is a “marker” for lung cancer in the breath. The question is, what is it? It’s too bad the dogs can’t be of more help.
“It is unfortunate,” Walles said, “that dogs cannot communicate the biochemistry of the scent of cancer.”
Photo from grangernite via flickr.