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Dogs May Be Able to Sniff Out Colon Cancer

colon cancer

Canines have been man’s companion for hundreds of years. They have been useful for hunting and protecting our homes, but new studies suggest that dogs may provide other important skills as well. You may not believe this, but studies show that dogs can diagnose cancer. Yes, you read that correctly. Using their keen sense of smell, dogs can actually sniff out cancer.

Chicago Firefighter Jim O’Malley can attest to this truth from personal experience. When he worked with Engine No. 84, a group of dogs diagnosed him with colon cancer. Since 2013, Chicago firefighters breathed into masks as part of a study to test whether dogs could detect cancer in human breath. By raising a paw, a dog could indicate that the sample was positive.

O’Malley had his doubts about the validity of the results, but the dogs’ diagnosis was confirmed by his doctor. What he used to call “crazy” was reality, and within 30 days, O’Malley was scheduled for surgery. Of the 700 Chicago firefighters that were screened, 18 firefighters were correctly identified as having cancer and four tested positive for pre-cancer.

How do the dogs identify cancer in the breath? According to Glenn Ferguson, founder of CancerDogs, “the dogs are detecting perhaps a cocktail of odors.” The dogs are specially trained using breath samples from untreated cancer patients. Although the breath test is only $20, a positive result is sometimes confirmed by a blood test that is often not covered by insurance and can cost a patient several hundred dollars. 

Interestingly, the dogs can often detect cancer before traditional colon cancer screenings, and they do it with 95 percent accuracy. Ferguson predicts that he will test about 20,000 high-risk firefighters this year. Even though the dog test was a hard sell to the firefighters at first, there is no arguing with the accuracy of the results.

O’Malley’s wife is certainly thankful for the cancer-sniffing dogs. She says, “They saved my husband’s life — there’s absolutely no doubt.” If further studies go well, the breath test may be more widely available in the next five years (Source: CBS Chicago).

posted on April 17, 2017 in news