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July 20, 2014 at 9:12 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Man's Best Friend... For Prostate Cancer: Study Dogs Detect with 98% Accuracy!

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

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The prostate takes the award over recent years for the most controversial male organ.  Radioactive seeds, open surgical removal, robotic removal or even diet - no clear option prevails for care of prostate cancer. In a past blog I discussed the controversial recommendation by the U.S. Preventative Task Force to forgo routine screening for prostate cancer via the PSA test and annual rectal prostate exam. Clearly, we don't have it down for the early detection of prostate cancer or its treatment. Advancements are especially needed for the accurate detection of this cancer. Some exciting new findings, though, were recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Urologic Association using dogs to sniff out prostate cancer abnormalities in the urine of males.

Why dogs?

They sniff everything. They sniff each other's butts in greeting and taking a dog on a walk usually involves countless stops for a sniff. By smelling the urine markings of other dogs, our canine companions can detect who has been there, their sex, whether they are in heat -  even their general health or fitness. Their noses contain 220 million scent receptors to our 5 million and experts estimate that a dog's nose is 1,000 - 10,000X more sensitive than our own! And as urine is important to dogs? A great deal of those receptors deal with urine.

The Study

Relying on their natural abilities, German shepherds were trained by a research team to detect chemicals in the urine called volatile organic compounds (VOC's) which are specific to prostate cancer.

In general, most smells and scents come from VOC's, but technically any chemical compound that has a low temperature at which it becomes a gas falls into this category. It was discovered previously that a specific, identified type of VOC is present in the urine of subjects with prostate cancer. And the best way to detect them is through identification of their odor when in gas form - this is where those 220 million scent receptors come in handy. 

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The present study offered a larger number of subjects, 677 in total, 320 of which had known prostate cancer at various stages. Two trained dogs identified the urine of prostate cancer subjects vs. normal subjects with 98.9% and 97.3% accuracy. The combined accuracy was 98.1% - much better than any available test, including the previous standard of PSA blood testing with finger rectal exam!

Other VOC's have been studied regarding breast cancer and melanoma with canine detection. 


So much about this study is exciting. We may have a detection method that is more accurate, safe, and uses easily obtained specimens. Of course, it also opens up a whole new can of worms in regards to standardization. Whereas labs are required to comply with standards, a standard for dog training and care as well as accuracy will undoubtedly be required if this becomes mainstream. At this point, however, we can remain hopeful and awe over the amazing abilities of our canine friends.  "Cancer stinks" is taking on a whole new meaning!  

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