Dogs show near-perfect accuracy in detecting bowel cancer

Shereen Dindar  January 31, 2011 – 6:30 pm

New research published in Gut, an affiliate journal of the British Medical Journal, reveals that dogs can sniff out bowel cancer in breath and stool samples with a very high degree of accuracy — 95% accuracy for breath samples and 98% accuracy for stool samples. Moreover, the dog used in the study was able to detect bowel cancer at its preliminary stages.

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters  Dogs have historically been used for search and resuce operations and police drug searches. But now, new research suggests that dogs can accurately detect bowel cancer in its early stages.

Over the past decade there have been concerns about the accuracy of colonoscopy, the main medical procedure used to detect bowel cancer, which involves inserting a flexible tube with a small camera on the end of it into the rectum. The concerns have centred around the procedure not being as accurate as doctors once thought.

The authors of the study suggest that there are specific odours give off by cancer cells which circulate around the body, and that while using dogs to screen for cancer may be impractical, sensors could be used in place to detect these specific odours.

In this study, a specially trained Labrador retriever completed 74 sniff tests, each comprising five breath or stool samples at a time, only one of which was cancerous, over a period of several months.

The samples came from 48 people with confirmed bowel cancer and 258 volunteers with no bowel cancer or who had had cancer in the past.

The dog successfully identified which samples were cancerous, and which were not, in 33 out of 36 breath tests and in 37 out of 38 stool tests, with the highest detection rates among those samples taken from people with early stage disease.

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