They can detect the tiniest amounts of drugs, bombs, criminals scent and contraband cheese, so how about cancer? Recent studies from the Pine Street Foundation are backing up the anecdotes that dogs can be great at cancer detection.
There are several experimental cancer tests on the market and in various stages of awaiting FDA approval, but leading oncologists at NYU and Memorial Sloan Kettering told me that there is currently no baseline test for determining if anyone, has breast cancer now or if you have/don’t have it when your treatment is done.
This is where cancer sniffing dogs come in.
My wife Gabby was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in March 2010. She had a left mastectomy, the surgeon reported that “the margins were clean,” which is good and there was no sign the cancer had spread.
The next recommended course of treatment is 4 months of heavy chemo, radiation and then hormone therapy to induce early and abrupt menopause.
A doctor at a different hospital recommended in addition, she have her ovaries removed.
This is standard treatment for her type of disease. Numerous studies show it works in aggregate (90% survival over 5 years) but we don’t have any scientific way of knowing how well it’s working, how much is actually needed and if it’s even necessary.
Using a sledgehammer instead of a pen-knife.
Gabby might be cancer free right now, but there is no way for the doctors to know. The science does not yet exist.
The person or team who devises a reliable cancer detector will be heroes. Cancer sniffing dogs can be a highly effective and cost-efficient way to detect cancer.
Which is where the cancer sniffing dogs come in. Researchers at the San Francisco base Pine Street Foundation have trained dogs to detect cancer.
Cancer cells may give off certain unique proteins, an “aroma” that dogs can be trained in cancer detection from human breath. Like the way you train them to sniff contraband at airports.
Pine Street cancer researcher Michael McCulloch has been testing his theories with dogs for 10 years and has shown his dogs “detect lung cancer 99 percent of the time and had an 88-percent accuracy rate for breast cancer.”
Dogs sniffing cancer waste?
McCulloch told People magazine that he thinks the dogs are detecting metabolic waste “from the tumor cells, which is chemically different from normal cells. The waste travels through the bloodstream and is exhaled out through the lungs.”
I also read stories of dogs detecting melanomas on their owners; skin by sniffing them.
It seems pretty obvious that well-trained dogs can do this, they do it elsewhere with amazing accuracy, so what is the hold up?
Researchers at Pine Street have also made progress in training dogs in early detection of ovarian cancer.
Don’t hold your breath
With millions of new cancer cases being diagnosed each year, we need to act much faster than we are now to find more accurate cancer detection methods.
Let’s get field trials in many cancer hospitals. I am certain that most cancer patients would like to add the dog test to their treatment regimen. You don’t even need to meet the dogs, you send them your breath to be tested.
According to Pine Street’s executive director Nick Broffman, they are the only organization doing rigorous scientific trials with canine cancer detection. That’s absurd. Where is the funding and the interest? What other methods are this accurate?
Here are two ways to get the research kick started.
1. Find a way to make a boatload of money on this. Pretty self-explanatory.
2. Enlightened philanthropists. If you have the funds and you understand the urgency for this and similar types of cancer detection methods to be put into wide use NOW; heed the call.
3. Donate to the Pine Street Foundation, that is at the leading edge of this kind of cancer sniffing canine research. (I have no stake in this foundation other than I believe they are doing good work).
You will save lives. Possibly millions of lives.