Researchers Have Just Discovered That Belgian Malinois Dogs Can Sniff Out Cancer

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Researchers Have Just Discovered That Belgian Malinois Dogs Can Sniff Out Cancer
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Did you know that there are some dogs that have such an acute sense of smell that they can actually be trained to sniff out cancer? Dogs have an uncanny ability to detect diseases due to the presence of certain scent markers, which are beyond the limit of human detection. A French research project [1] worked with two Belgian Malinois (these dogs look very similar to German Shepherds and are sometimes confused with them) to train them to sniff out cancer. With just six months of training, the dogs became 100-percent accurate in recognizing cancerous rags from non-cancerous ones.

Results of the diagnostic trial were presented by Isabelle Fromantin, a doctor of science at the Curie Institute, and Dr. Severine Alran on February 21, 2017 before the French National Academy of Medicine. The study is part of Kdog, a Canine Based Cancer Screening Research Program that aims to provide an alternative to mammography using a reproducible, noninvasive, and inexpensive method. Kdog was inspired by Dr. Fromantin’s work on the lesions and healing processes related to breast cancer.

The dogs were trained by experts on olfactory memorization to detect infected cells on tumor samples and wipes. Under the supervision of canine specialist Jacky Experton, the trainers used game-playing and reward to improve the animals’ role as breast cancer spotters. Fromantin’s team collected samples from 31 cancer patients to explore if breast cancer cells have a distinguishing scent marker which the dogs would pick up.

If you are still not sold on the idea that dogs have great cancer-sniffing abilities, there are more studies that might change your mind. One of the earlier reports was by Carolyn M. Willis et. al. and published in the September 23, 2004 issue of the British Medical Journal. [2] The study explored the astonishing ability of dogs to identify people with bladder cancer on the basis of urine odor. Willis and colleagues trained dogs to discriminate between urine from patients with bladder cancer and urine from healthy subjects.

The beginnings of this topic are even older. Williams and Pembroke [3] were the first proponents of dogs’ ability to detect malignant tumors by odor. They published a letter in Lancet in 1989 that documented the experience of a woman who sought medical help due to her dog’s inordinate interest in a skin lesion that she had developed. Evaluations revealed that the lesion proved to be a malignant melanoma.

The Lancet report inspired American dermatologist Armand Cognetta [4] to collaborate with a police handler to train a dog to sniff out skin cancer. George, the dog, was able to locate and retrieve tissue samples of melanoma that had been removed and stored in bottles. Cognetta reported that the animal was nearly 100 percent successful in detecting cancerous skin lesions in patients.

Another study published in the August 18, 2011 issue of the European Respiratory Journal [5] focused on four trained dogs that correctly identified lung cancer in 71% of samples from lung cancer patients. The dogs included an Australian shepherd, two German shepherds, and one Labrador who also were able to rule out cancer in 372 of 400 samples that were known not to have cancer. The study used exhalation samples of healthy individuals and confirmed lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In 2006, Michael McCulloch and colleagues [6] used a food reward-based method to train ordinary household dogs on scent detection in early- and late-stage lung and breast cancers. The dogs were able to accurately distinguish breath samples of lung and breast cancer patients from those of controls. The study revealed a 0.99 overall sensitivity of canine scent detection compared to biopsy-confirmed conventional diagnosis.

Fromantin and her team are planning to continue their research with a clinical trial, using more patients and dogs. They hope that their study would widen women’s access to mammograms, especially those who live in developing and poor countries. Fromantin specifically mentioned rural areas where there is limited access to diagnostics.

The team hopes to carry out similar non-invasive tests to detect lung and prostate cancers. The success of clinical trials would validate the team’s detention method.

Ok, here’s the video:


[1] Science: Dogs can sniff out breast cancer.

[2] Willis, C.M. et. al. (2004). Olfactory detection of human bladder cancer by dogs: proof of principle study.

[3] Williams H, Pembroke A. (1989). Sniffer dogs in melanoma clinic?…/

[4] Dogs Being Trained To Detect Cancer.

[5] Ehmann R et. al. (2011). Canine scent detection in the diagnosis of lung cancer: revisiting a puzzling phenomenon.

[6] McCulloch M et. al. (2006). Diagnostic accuracy of canine scent detection in early- and late-stage lung and breast cancers.

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