According to researchers, dogs can be trained to sniff out thyroid cancer in people who up until then hadn’t been diagnosed. The team of scientists presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.
The thyroid is a hormone-producing gland that is located in the neck. It is involved in metabolism control. Thyroid tumors are quite rare. Doctors usually diagnose it with the help of tests that analyze hormone levels in one’s blood or from cells extracted with the help of a needle.
During their study, researchers observed that the dog used to “examine” 34 patients was right 88 % of times, meaning 30 out of 34 patients were correctly diagnosed. The U.K. Cancer Research organization considers that the canine approach might be impractical but that more investigations need to be done in order to understand the mechanism behind their olfactory talent. Once scientists gather enough information, they can use it to develop devices (like a sort of “electronic nose”) and tests based on the same mechanism dogs use to detect these cancers.
Scientists studied this method of diagnosis on the basis that tumors “release organic compounds into the body” and that dogs’ sense of smell is far more developed than that of humans. This led to the assumption that our four-legged friends might be able to detect the unique smell that tumors release through those volatile substances.
The same approach was successfully tested in bowel and lung cancer patients.
Scientists from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) had managed to train a dog into detecting the difference between urine samples belonging to patients with and without thyroid cancer. All that’s left is to use these resources and include them as part of diagnostic testing.
Frankie, the German Shepherd used in the study was taught to lie down if it detected signs of thyroid cancer in the urine sample. If the test was negative, Frankie would turn away from the sample.
Chief of endocrine oncology at UAMS Dr. Donald Bodenner said “The medical community over the next few years is going to have a great appreciation [for them].”
The canine approach has also been used to detect the presence of dangerous infections with bacteria such as Clostridium difficile.
Image Source: The Westside Story