Dogs detect breast cancer from bandage: researchers

March 24, 2017
A Female German Shepherd. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Dogs can sniff out cancer from a piece of cloth which had touched the breast of a woman with a tumour, researchers said Friday, announcing the results of an unusual, but promising, diagnostic trial.

With just six months of training, a pair of German Shepherds became 100-percent accurate in their new role as breast spotters, the team said.

The technique is simple, non-invasive and cheap, and may revolutionise cancer detection in countries where mammograms are hard to come by.

"In these countries, there are oncologists, there are surgeons, but in rural areas often there is limited access to diagnostics," Isabelle Fromantin, who leads project Kdog, told journalists in Paris.

This means that "people arrive too late," to receive life-saving treatment, she added. "If this works, we can roll it out rapidly."

Working on the assumption that have a distinguishing smell which sensitive dog noses will pick up, the team collected samples from 31 cancer patients.

These were pieces of bandage that patients had held against their affected breast.

With the help of canine specialist Jacky Experton, the team trained German Shepherds Thor and Nykios to recognise cancerous rags from non-cancerous ones.

"It is all based on game-playing" and reward, he explained.

After six months, the were put to the test over several days in January and February this year.

This time, the researchers used 31 bandages from different cancer patients than those the dogs had been trained on.

One bandage was used per experiment, along with three samples from women with no cancer.

Saving lives

Each bandage was placed in a box with a large cone which the dogs could stick their noses into, sniffing at each in turn—four boxes per test.

The exercise was repeated once with each sample, meaning there were 62 individual responses from the dogs in all.

In the first round, the dogs detected 28 out of the 31 cancerous bandages—a 90-percent pass rate, the researchers announced.

On the second try, they scored 100 percent—sitting down in front of the box containing the cancerous sample with their muzzle pressed deep into the cone.

"There is technology that works very well, but sometimes simpler things, more obvious things, can also help," said Amaury Martin of the Curie Institute, citing the many untested stories of dogs having detected cancer in their owners.

"Our aim was see if we can move from conventional wisdom to... real science, with all the clinical and research validation that this entails."

This was the proof-of-concept phase of Kdog.

The next step will be a clinical trial with more patients and another two dogs, but the team is still in need of project funding.

The team believes that one day dogs may be replaced by "sniffing" machines, possibly armies of electronic diagnosticians dedicated to analysing samples that people far from clinics would send them by the post.

In the meantime, Experton said there is little danger of the trained dogs using their new-found skills to accost cancer sufferers outside the lab.

"These tests happen within a very specific work environment," he explained. "In a different context, these dogs are unlikely to simply pounce on random people in the street."

The team says it is the only one to work with from skin-touch samples.

Other research projects are testing canines' ability to smell different types of cancer in samples of the skin itself, blood or urine, even the air people exhale.

In France, the chances of surviving ten years after a diagnosis is about 85 percent, compared to around 50 percent in poorer countries.

Explore further: Dogs being used to sniff out cancer diagnoses

Related Stories

Dogs being used to sniff out cancer diagnoses

March 24, 2015
Man's best friend may have just graduated to oncologist's best colleague.

Dogs sniff out chemicals linked to prostate cancer

April 17, 2015
Researchers in Italy have published a study suggesting that trained dogs can detect chemicals linked to prostate cancer from urine samples.

Dogs may help spot human prostate cancers, study finds

May 18, 2014
(HealthDay)—Dogs can be trained to sniff out evidence of prostate cancer in human urine with near-perfect accuracy, Italian researchers report.

Dogs can sniff out lung cancer, pilot study shows

December 5, 2012
Dogs are surprisingly adept at sniffing out lung cancer, results from a pilot project in Austria published on Wednesday suggested, potentially offering hope for earlier, life-saving diagnosis.

Recommended for you

Clinical trial suggests new cell therapy for relapsed leukemia patients

November 20, 2017
A significant proportion of children and young adults with treatment-resistant B-cell leukemia who participated in a small study achieved remission with the help of a new form of gene therapy, according to researchers at ...

Researchers discover a new target for 'triple-negative' breast cancer

November 20, 2017
So-called "triple-negative" breast cancer is a particularly aggressive and difficult-to-treat form. It accounts for only about 10 percent of breast cancer cases, but is responsible for about 25 percent of breast cancer fatalities.

Study reveals new mechanism used by cancer cells to disarm attacking immune cells

November 20, 2017
A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC - James) identifies a substance released by pancreatic cancer cells that protects ...

Cell-weighing method could help doctors choose cancer drugs

November 20, 2017
Doctors have many drugs available to treat multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. However, there is no way to predict, by genetic markers or other means, how a patient will respond to a particular drug. This can lead to ...

Lung cancer triggers pulmonary hypertension

November 17, 2017
Shortness of breath and respiratory distress often increase the suffering of advanced-stage lung cancer patients. These symptoms can be triggered by pulmonary hypertension, as scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Heart ...

Researchers discover an Achilles heel in a lethal leukemia

November 16, 2017
Researchers have discovered how a linkage between two proteins in acute myeloid leukemia enables cancer cells to resist chemotherapy and showed that disrupting the linkage could render the cells vulnerable to treatment. St. ...

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FredJose
not rated yet Mar 24, 2017
The obvious solution to the lack of funds is crowd funding or kick starter funding.
Once the need for funds for this kind of research is officially put on the net, I can guarantee that they'll have $100m in no time at all. Everybody wants progress in this field.
KBK
1 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2017
Muslims will probably refuse to be neared or diagnosed by the given 'dirty animal'.
RZ49
not rated yet Mar 24, 2017
Dogs will also sense their own illness and most likely have a good knowledge about when the time to die has come, they will be prepared.
koitsu
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2017
This will never, ever be cleared by the FDA or its counterparts in other "advanced" countries. The reason is that there would be FAR too much money to be lost on diagnostics if patients were to gain sufficient faith in such inexpensive techniques.
adam_russell_9615
not rated yet Mar 26, 2017
Thats great. You need really honest doctors though. This could be abused just as easily as police sometimes make their drug sniffing dogs give them excuse to search a vehicle.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.