They can fetch. They can roll over and play dead. But can dogs really detect cancer? A study being conducted at Scripps Clinic in San Diego is investigating the possibility that “man’s best friend” may also be able to detect cancer by sniffing urine samples.
Society has been using the dog’s extraordinary sense of smell to its advantage as chemical detectors for many years. Now, Scripps Clinic is conducting a study to identify if “man’s best friend” can also aid in the diagnosis of cancer by sniffing urine samples. Scripps Clinic physician, Robert Gordon, MD, is leading the first double-blinded, peer-reviewed study of this type in the United States.
Through this study, Gordon will be able to distinguish if there are specific odor signatures in urine from individuals with cancer which dogs can identify. The study will show if the dogs can screen unknown urine samples and identify those from patients with cancer to an acceptable level of accuracy. They are currently testing samples with prostate cancer and breast cancer and Gordon anticipates that from the results of this study the next step would be to attempt to identify other cancers such as ovarian, lung and colon.
“By proving that a urine-screening test by a trained detector dog was a scientifically valid idea then more people could be tested,” says Gordon. “The intention of this study is not to suggest that dogs identifying cancer in urine should replace our existing diagnostic testing. But this could represent an alternative diagnostic tool in undeveloped areas of the world. Imagine the benefit for those in remote, poor, undeserved or undeveloped areas.”
The two most common tests used to detect prostate cancer are the digital rectal exam (DRE) and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) obtained from a blood sample. Many men do not get screened because of their lack of access to these tests, the costs and the discomfort. Breast cancer is detected by the use of mammograms and in rural, poor areas mammography machines are often not accessible.
Dogs are used world wide for different tasks involving the detection of different types of contraband, toxic waste chemicals and in search and rescue. The olfactory ability is present irrespective of breed and is often more variable in their detection capability across breeds than between breeds. Twelve dogs of various breeds are currently being trained for the study at Scripps Clinic.
Founded in 1924, Scripps Clinic is a multi-specialty, outpatient care facility caring for patients at multiple locations throughout San Diego County. Scripps Clinic and its physicians are world-renowned for research-driven care and medical specialty expertise and is an operating unit of Scripps Health, a not-for-profit, community-based health care delivery network that includes more than 2,600 affiliated physicians, five acute-care hospitals, home health care and associated support services. Scripps Health is one of the largest health care organizations in San Diego County, drawing from the expertise of more than 10,000 health care professionals.