Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cancer-sniffing dogs

I've heard about dogs (and doctors) detecting disease from scent alone, but a new study shows that canines can be as good as people. At the Pine Street Foundation in San Anselmo, California, Labrador retrievers and Portugese water dogs were trained to sniff out alkanes and benzene derivatives in the breath of cancer patients. From New Scientist: The dogs correctly detected 99% of the lung cancer samples, and made a mistake with only 1% of the healthy controls. With breast cancer, they correctly detected 88% of the positive samples, and made a mistake on only 2% of the controls.

The work is convincing, says James C Walker, director of the Florida State University Sensory Research Institute in Tallahassee, US. In 2004 Walker and colleagues showed that dogs could sniff out melanomas. He says that the next step is to see if dogs are really detecting cancer, or if they might be sensing a more general disease symptom, such as one that comes from inflammation.


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