The world’s first scientific study to train a group of dogs to detect prostate cancer has been launched in Milton Keynes.
The charity Medical Detection Dogs needs men from the east of England to donate samples for the research.
Cancer cells release small amounts of volatile substances not produced by normal cells. In this work the dogs are trained to identify different types of cancer volatiles from urine samples. Clinicians and scientists are studying the data collected to help them in the development of a cost effective, non-invasive and early cancer detection screening system in the form of an ‘electronic nose’.
These dogs work for two or three days a week and live with families, leading happy normal pet lives, they are never placed with clients and only work in the training environment on samples on a carousel. They are not trained to indicate on individual people.
The research was initiated by retired orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. John Church, who became interested in the subject following the publication of a case report in The Lancet in 1989. It described a woman whose pet dog showed a persistent interest in a mole on her leg, which turned out to be malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.
Since then, similar anecdotal stories have been reported, involving not only skin cancer but also bowel, cervix and breast. The notion that dogs may be able to smell cancer is not unreasonable.
Dogs are renowned for their sense of smell. For centuries, doctors have known that diseases have characteristic odours. Cancer cells release small amounts of volatile substances not produced by normal cells, which dogs, with their exquisite sense of smell, are likely to be able to detect.