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Health

Can a dog's nose detect ovarian cancer?

DogsNose.jpg
Conrad Olson
/
Flickr

Dogs are known for their ability to smell things from a mile away. Now researchers are trying to put that talent to good use, training dogs to detect ovarian cancer in women with just their noses.

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Cindy Otto discusses how dogs’ sense of smell is leading researchers to catch ovarian cancer. Otto is the founder and executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine.

According to Otto, some cancer patients noticed a change in their dogs’ behavior even before they had been diagnosed.

“Dogs starting either nudging at them or biting in an area, or scratching at a mole or pushing on a certain area and it prompted them to go to their doctor and be evaluated,” Otto says. “It turned out, indeed, some of these cases did have cancer.”

Otto, who works with a team of researchers, hopes to be able to find if there are particular odors associated with certain cancers.

“We do know, based on the research that’s been done with ovarian cancer, that the ovarian cancer is a different odor than some other sources of cancer and definitely different then benign ovarian disease,” Otto says. “We suspect there is probably a unique odor depending on either the location, or the type of cells that the cancer has evolved from but that’s something we’re hoping to research in the future.”

The researchers are first trying to train dogs to detect ovarian cancer. Otto says they use blood samples from patients that have already been diagnosed to train the dogs. This practice is mostly about teaching the dogs if the odor in the blood sample can be associated with ovarian cancer. 

“We figured that [blood] was probably the purest sample that we would be able to use,” Otto says.

However they hope to use less invasive samples like urine, meaning a patient wouldn’t have to go to a doctor to collect it.

Otto says they train the dogs by using the same techniques used to train diabetic alert dogs or explosive detection dogs. And, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center trains the same breeds of dogs that are used for other odor detection work like bomb sniffing or search and rescue. But Otto says that does not mean that certain breeds will end up being better than others.

“All of the dogs in our program are already kind of at the top percent of detection dogs so they have really good noses,” Otto says. “That’s how they got into our program.”

However, according to Otto, the length of their noses does not predict their ability to differentiate between odors. 

Dogs are known for their ability to smell things from a mile away. Now researchers are trying to put that talent to good use, training dogs to detect ovarian cancer in women with just their noses.

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Cindy Otto discusses how dogs’ sense of smell is leading researchers to catch ovarian cancer. Otto is the founder and executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine.

According to Otto, some cancer patients noticed a change in their dogs’ behavior even before they had been diagnosed.

“Dogs starting either nudging at them or biting in an area, or scratching at a mole or pushing on a certain area and it prompted them to go to their doctor and be evaluated,” Otto says. “It turned out, indeed, some of these cases did have cancer.”

Otto, who works with a team of researchers, hopes to be able to find if there are particular odors associated with certain cancers.

“We do know, based on the research that’s been done with ovarian cancer, that the ovarian cancer is a different odor than some other sources of cancer and definitely different then benign ovarian disease,” Otto says. “We suspect there is probably a unique odor depending on either the location, or the type of cells that the cancer has evolved from but that’s something we’re hoping to research in the future.”

The researchers are first trying to train dogs to detect ovarian cancer. Otto says they use blood samples from patients that have already been diagnosed to train the dogs. This practice is mostly about teaching the dogs if the odor in the blood sample can be associated with ovarian cancer. 

“We figured that [blood] was probably the purest sample that we would be able to use,” Otto says.

However they hope to use less invasive samples like urine, meaning a patient wouldn’t have to go to a doctor to collect it.

Otto says they train the dogs by using the same techniques used to train diabetic alert dogs or explosive detection dogs. And, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center trains the same breeds of dogs that are used for other odor detection work like bomb sniffing or search and rescue. But Otto says that does not mean that certain breeds will end up being better than others.

“All of the dogs in our program are already kind of at the top percent of detection dogs so they have really good noses,” Otto says. “That’s how they got into our program.”

However, according to Otto, the length of their noses does not predict their ability to differentiate between odors.