Tuesday, 8 October 2013

"Every animal knows more than you do" ~ Native American Proverb

Agence France-Presse

Japanese scientists have found that dogs can distinguish people with colorectal cancer, reporting that a retriever can scent bowel cancer in breath and stool samples as accurately as hi-tech diagnostic tools.

The findings published in the British Medical Journal support hopes for an ‘electronic nose’ that will one day be able to sniff out the specific chemicals that are produced by cancer cells and circulate in the blood stream before being expelled by the lungs.

Researchers led by Hideto Sonoda at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, used the specially-trained female black labrador to carry out 74 ‘sniff tests’ over a period of several months. Each of the tests comprised five breath or stool samples, only one of which was cancerous.

cancer-sniffing dog

A black labrador retriever named Marine at the St. Sugar Cancer Sniffing Dog Training Centre in Japan has shown a cancer-sniffing ability to rival hi-tech diagnostic tools. Credit: AFP/YUJI SATOH

95% on breath tests

The samples came from 48 people with confirmed bowel cancer at various stages of the disease and 258 volunteers with no bowel cancer or who had had cancer in the past. They complicated the task for the eight-year-old canine detective by adding a few challenges to the samples.

Around half of the non-cancer samples came from people with bowel polyps, which are benign but are also a possible precursor of bowel cancer. Six percent of the breath samples, and 10% of the stool samples, came from people with other gut problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, diverticulitis, and appendicitis.

The retriever performed as well as a colonoscopy, a technique in which a fibre-optic tube with a camera on the end is inserted into the rectum to look for suspect areas of the intestine. It correctly spotted which samples were cancerous and which were not in 33 out of 36 breath tests, equal to 95% accuracy, and in 37 out of 38 stool tests (98% accuracy).

cancer-sniffing dog

 A Seoul bio-technology company and the dog's owner says it hopes to clone Marine in the future. Credit: AFP/YUJI SATOH

Hopes for early cancer detection

It performed especially well among people with early stage disease, and its skills were not disrupted by samples from people with other types of gut problems. Previous research has also found that dogs can sniff out bladder, lung, ovarian and breast cancer.

Using dogs as a screening tool is likely to be expensive. But the success of this experiment backs hopes for developing a sensor that can detect specific compounds, in faecal material or the air, that are linked to cancer.

There is already a non-invasive method for screening for bowel cancer, which looks for telltale traces of blood in a stool sample. But it is only about 10% accurate in detecting early-stage disease.

Further tests on more cancers required

“There have been rumours floating around about dogs being able to “smell cancer’ on the breath of people with bowel cancer and it’s good to see some solid research to back it up,” said gastroenterologist Graeme Young, a specialist in colorectal cancer at Flinders University, South Australia.

“Dogs have an incredibly acute sense of smell and can be trained to detect these chemicals in the breath of cancer patients with a remarkable degree of accuracy..”

Read more: Cosmos Magazine

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