Dogs Can Sniff Out Lethal Prostate Cancer With High Accuracy, Suggests First Blind Study

Florin concentrating on the job. Image credit: Neil Pollock

If you own a dog, you already know they are masters of sniffing rears. Despite wielding powerful noses that can detect diabetes and even COVID-19, they often prioritize diving into the nearest posterior to make friends as opposed to putting them to good use, but you can’t stop them doing what they love. 

Steering them in the right direction, researchers from Medical Detection Dogs have concluded a trial for scent dogs detecting the presence of prostate cancer and found they are highly sensitive to the most aggressive forms of the disease. The study, which is published in the journal PLOS ONE, aimed at assessing two dogs’ ability to detect lethal prostate cancer in urine samples. Florin and Midas, the genius sniffer dogs, were capable of identifying urine samples from patients with prostate cancer with high specificity, giving hope for a non-invasive cancer diagnostic test that can support the current blood tests. 

The researchers even suggest that the dog’s incredible noses could be replicated in a synthetic device in the future.  

“This is hugely exciting because one of the challenges of the PSA blood test, the test most widely used at the moment, is that other conditions can cause an elevated PSA but that does not necessarily mean you have cancer. The dogs in this study were able to differentiate between cancer and other prostatic diseases with good reliability,” said Dr Claire Guest, Medical Detection Dogs’ co-founder, in a statement

“This additional information could support the PSA and would provide earlier, non-invasive, sensitive detection of clinically aggressive prostate cancers that would most benefit from early diagnosis, simply from a urine sample.  This has enormous potential and in time the ability of the dogs’ nose could be translated to an electronic device.” 

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of lethal cancers in American men, with 1 in 8 men being diagnosed in their lifetime. Current diagnostic tests, such as prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening, can be unreliable, with many giving false-positive results leading to treatments that aren’t necessary. 

Dogs have proven to be accurate at identifying various cancers, but this is the first double-blind study (meaning neither researchers nor dogs knew where the positive samples were) to stop trainers subconsciously biasing the dogs. After being given a carousel of samples to sniff and choose from, the dogs accurately identified samples from cancer patients 71 percent of the time and ignored samples from other patients 73 percent of the time. These are marked improvements over the 21-51 percent sensitivity of current PSA screening, suggesting that while the dogs are not practical for an accurate single test, usage alongside other methods could save countless lives. 

Check out Florin being the good boy he is in the video below.

With the knowledge that dogs can detect molecules in the odor of cancer samples, the researchers are now attempting to pin down what it is they are smelling to create an artificial nose. These could be far more scalable for widespread testing, be made more accurate, and free up the dogs to play more fetch. 


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