Dogs Can Smell Lung Cancer on Your Breath?

August 19, 2011
Dogs are many things: faithful, loyal, playful, cuddly. And we've been using their keen sense of smell to find things we want to shoot, like escaped prisoners, for thousands of years. Now, though, we're putting them to a different kind of use: diagnosing cancer.

Yep, there are lung-cancer-sniffing dogs. Scientists in Germany specially trained four dogs to detect cancer, and then used breath samples from lung cancer patients to see how they did. The dogs found 71% of all lung cancer breath samples, and more importantly, spotted 90% of the samples without lung cancer, meaning the odds of a false positive are pretty low.

How can they smell a tumor? Your body gives off a lot of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, whenever you do, well, anything. Cancer in the lungs changes the VOCs in subtle ways that humans can't detect, but that are easy to spot for dogs.

This is a big deal because lung cancer is hard to find. Sufferers usually only find out, if they find out at all before dying, when it's at an advanced stage and hard to treat. This is why lung cancer is the most fatal kind of cancer. But with cancer-sniffing dogs, it can be caught earlier and treated, which gives patients a higher chance of survival. Which to us means these dogs deserve a treat.

Source: Angie McKaig/Flickr/Getty Images