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HEALTH REPORT - Study Says Dogs Can Smell Cancer - 2004-10-05

Broadcast: October 6, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Dogs are known for their sense of smell. They can find missing people and things like bombs and illegal drugs. Now a study suggests that the animal known as man’s best friend can even find bladder cancer.

Cancer cells are thought to produce chemicals with unusual odors. Researchers think dogs have the ability to smell these odors, even in very small amounts, in urine. The sense of smell in dogs is thousands of times better than in humans.

The study follows reports of cases where, for example, a dog showed great interest in a growth on the leg of its owner. The mole was later found to be skin cancer.

Carolyn Willis led a team of researchers at Amersham Hospital in England. They trained different kinds of dogs for the experiment. The study involved urine collected from bladder cancer patients, from people with other diseases and from healthy people.

Each dog was tested eight times. In each test there were seven samples for the dogs to smell. The dog was supposed to signal the one from a bladder cancer patient by lying down next to it.

Two cocker spaniels were correct fifty-six percent of the time. But the scientists reported an average success rate of forty-one percent.

As a group, the study found that the dogs chose the correct sample twenty-two out of fifty-four times. That is almost three times more often than would be expected by chance alone.

The British Medical Journal published the research. In all, thirty-six bladder cancer patients and one hundred eight other people took part.

During training, all the dogs reportedly even identified a cancer in a person who had tested healthy before the study. Doctors found a growth on the person’s right kidney.

Carolyn Willis says dogs could help scientists identify the compounds produced by bladder cancer. That information could then be used to develop machines to test for the chemicals. Now, doctors must remove tissue from the bladder to test for cancer. The team also plans to use dogs to help identify markers for other kinds of cancer.

Bladder cancer is the ninth most common cancer worldwide. The International Agency for Research on Cancer says this disease kills more than one hundred thousand people each year. Doctors say cigarette smoking is the leading cause of bladder cancer.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Gwen Outen.