Sniffing out cancer

Dogs have a keen sense of smell, but...can dogs sniff out intestinal cancer in a stool specimen? Yes they can, according to the results of a trial run jointly by the VU University Medical Center and KNGF, the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation.
Six months ago, the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation (KNGF) began a trial in which dogs are trained to track down the odour emitted by cancer cells in human faeces. If this turns out to be possible, intestinal cancer can be detected in its early stages.

Medical detection dogs were tested in their own training centre at KNGF. First, the dogs have been trained to detect intestinal cancer; during another phase of investigation they could also be deployed to track down lung or breast cancers. The dogs have now practised with the target scent, which they can detect in minuscule concentrations. The next phase involves working with specimens from the VU Medical Center. Then the dogs must differentiate between the stools of intestinal cancer patients and those from people without cancer.

According to KNGF, each dog tracks in its own fashion. One may take its time sniffing and then lie down near the tube it chooses. Another may run like crazy along the carrousel and, if it doesn’t find the right scent, go and sit near the door – with a glance at its trainer as if to say, ‘Let’s go; there’s nothing here.’