These Dogs Can Literally Sniff Out Cancer

by Sarah Fielding

Dogs have long been considered "man's best friend" but soon that might change to "man's life saver". In the small, Japanese town of Kaneyama, residents have the highest fatality rates from stomach cancer in the country, according to local reports. As an effort to combat this, the mayor, Hiroshi Suzuki, has turned to a research program at Nippon Medical School, just east of Tokyo. Here cancer-sniffing dogs are trained to identify signs of the disease.

So how does it work? Frozen urine samples of residents are sent to Nippon Medical School where the dogs examine them. Dogs have around 300 million sensors in their nose, while humans have only five million. On top of this, dogs have a second smelling device at the back of their nose. Using both dogs are able to sniff out cancerous tumors, which are thought to give out a specific smell.

Dogs have long been used for their sense of smell, traditionally in situations like bomb threats and locating missing persons. In fact, this isn't even the first time there has been an effort to use dogs for this purpose: last year the United Kingdom conducted a trial at Medical Detection Dogs where dogs were trained to sniff out prostate cancer from urine samples. Founder Claire Guest has seen the positive effects of these trails first hand — in 2009 her labrador sniffed out her deep-seated breast tumor. Detecting early signs of breast cancer is critical to survival, and Guest's dog saved her life. In Florida, dermatologist Armand Cognetta was able to train a dog to find melanoma samples hidden around her room.

Back in Japan, five dogs are currently being used to sniff out cancer with an almost 100 percent success rate. While more dogs would be ideal, the cost of training each is $45,000. To train them, dogs are brought to a room containing different samples with only one being cancerous. When the smell is detected dogs sit down in front of and touch the sample with their nose. Ideally this method will help lead to early detection of cancer, a critical component to beating the disease.

All in all this technique serves as a great hope for diagnosing cancer. Dogs can help in a very unique and important way. Let's hope this continues to grow in the future as our best friends work to save our lives.