• Alysa Salzberg

Very good boys (and girls): Dogs may be able to sniff out cancer

A few years ago, scientists began to accept what seems like something out of a movie: Dogs can detect cancer in humans by smelling it.


Cancer cells have a different scent than healthy ones, and dogs’ complex sense of smell allows them to detect that difference when smelling human body fluids like sweat, blood, or urine.


If humans could train dogs to accurately “sniff out” specific types of cancer, we’d have a non-invasive method of early detection.


Studies and tests have already been conducted around the world. Now, Paris’s renowned Institut Curie has initiated its first clinical trial of dogs’ cancer-sniffing ability, focused on breast cancer.


Here’s how it will work: Of 450 women participating in the trial, half have breast cancer, while the other half have tested negative. Both groups will place compresses in their bras, which they will wear overnight. Naturally, they’ll sweat a bit, and that sweat is what the dogs will smell when the compresses are placed in special cones. Ideally, when a dog smells a compress that contains cancer cells, it will stop and bark to alert scientists.


If the dogs’ results are consistent, the trial could lead to introducing another weapon in the battle against cancer. That it’s a furry, adorable weapon is a bonus.


And for those who don’t like or are allergic to dogs, studying their cancer-sniffing ability has also led us to begin developing an artificial, cancer-detecting nose that may one day be used, too.


Read on to learn more about the Institut Curie’s clinical trial of dogs’ ability to detect breast cancer.



Nykios, one of the Institut Curie’s cancer-detecting dogs, sniffs a compress from a trial participant, via a special scent-isolating cone. (Image source)




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