Dogs Can Sniff Out Lung Cancer in Humans


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.”

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Photo from grangernite via flickr.


Val M.
Val M4 years ago

Great story

Sa R.
Sa R5 years ago

My mixed greyhound sniffs me a lot - how would I know when to get worried?

Fiona T.
Past Member 5 years ago

We've got to learn a lot from our furry friend

Richard T.
Richard T5 years ago


Sheri J.
Sheri J5 years ago

Dogs can also find dead bodies and drugs. They are talented and an asset to the police force as well.

Sheri J.
Sheri J5 years ago

I saw on Unsolved Mysteries that a dog can also sniff breast cancer from women. Dogs also have a six sense.

Heather Shaw
Heather Shaw5 years ago

My mother died very young of lung cancer when I was 8 years old. Parent-less, I went to live with elderly relatives, which changed all of our lives drastically.. It is both inspiring to hear that progress of some sort is being made, and honestly frustrating to know it is coming too late to help the (in my estimation) 3 million eight hundred thousand plus people who died between 1991 and now from lung cancer. And yet, maybe it will help keep my son, or my son's son from living through the same challenges. Keep on researching!!

jessica w.
jessica w6 years ago

it'd be nice if they could explain what the dog did differently when they came across a person with cancer compared to those who didn't have it.

Margaret F.
Marge F6 years ago

Thank-you for the article. Another way to prove that a dog is man's best friend!

Kath R.
Kath P6 years ago

Maybe people will treat them better now.