Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Man's best (life-saving) friend: The dog that can tell if you're getting bowel cancer

Lifesaver: Scientists have used a Labrador retriever to detect the early stages of bowel cancer in volunteer patients (file picture)

Man's best friend just became even better, with tests showing that dogs can sniff out the early stages of bowel cancer.

A labrador retriever detected traces of cancer with more than 90 per cent accuracy from samples provided by volunteers.

Because a dog’s sense of smell is 1,000 times more sensitive than a human’s, it can apparently pick up chemical compounds specific to certain cancers.

The findings could lead to screening tests for the early stages of bowel cancer, which is when cure rates are highest before the disease has spread around the body.

Experts hope a laboratory sensor can be developed which will identify the mix of chemicals involved.

Previous research has suggested that certain breeds – usually labradors or Portuguese water dogs – can sniff out bladder, skin, lung, breast and ovarian cancers.

Lung and breast cancer patients are known to exhale biochemical markers which can be traced to tumours that exude substances not found in healthy tissue.

Trained dogs have also picked up melanomas by sniffing skin lesions, while even domestic pets have raised the alarm with agitated behaviour which led their owners to seek medical advice.

For bowel cancer, the current NHS screening programme uses a test which detects minute amounts of blood in stool samples.

But researchers behind the latest study say this has limited value as it picks up only one in ten cases of the disease’s early stages.

The latest research, published in the journal Gut, found an astonishingly high success rate. Over several months, researchers used the labrador to carry out 74 sniff tests.

They acknowledge that it might be difficult to use dogs in clinical practice owing to the expense and time it takes to train them – thought to be several months.

But they hope that cancer-specific compounds detected by dogs could be incorporated into a new sensor which could be used to test samples as part of screening.

source : dailymail

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