Tumor-Sniffing Dogs Are the Future of Cancer Detection

Lab results.

Dogs have always been known for their keen sense of smell, but physicians have only recently discovered that they’re sensitive enough to sniff out cancerous tumors. A recent study by the UK charity Medical Detection Dogs found that specially trained canines can accurately sniff out prostate tumors in urine in 93% of cases.

The traditional prostate-specific antigen test used to determine whether a patient needs a biopsy has a high false positive rate, wasting time and money. Dr. Claire Guest, who founded Medical Detection Dogs after her own dog sniffed out a tumor in her breast, told The Guardian that their dogs “have higher rates of reliability than most of the existing tests.”

Cancerous tumors carry odor-causing volatile compounds, which can get into a patient’s urine. According to Guest, dogs can detect a scent equivalent to a drop of blood in two Olympic-sized swimming pools, so their ability to sniff out a tumor shouldn’t be that surprising.

Using dogs as tools for early cancer detection wouldn’t just be accurate, but much cheaper — and cuter — to boot.