Tumor-Sniffing Dogs Hold Key to Early Detection of Lung and Breast Cancers?

A 2006 study stunned the scientific community when 5 ordinary pet dogs trained for just three weeks were able to accurately detect lung cancer 99 percent of the time. The dogs, who also achieved an 88 percent degree of accuracy (comparable to mammography) detecting breast cancer, were the focus of a study devised by the Pine Street Foundation, a private cancer research foundation based in San Anselmo, Ca.

The extraordinary ability of dogs, who have been shown to be able to distinguish certain chemicals diluted to a rate of one to a trillion, first came to light as a result of a case study in which a dog constantly sniffed a lesion on his owner. This lesion was found to be a malignant melanoma. That led to studies which showed dogs could detect bladder cancer in dried urine samples.

In this study, three Labradors and two Portuguese Water Dogs, (on loan from Guide Dogs for the Blind), successfully sussed out 55 cases of lung cancer and 31 cases of breast cancer using breath samples, differentiating them from the scents of 83 healthy control subjects. The dogs were clicker trained in the manner used to train bomb detection canines. They were cued to to sit when detecting a malignancy.

None of the test subjects had begun chemotherapy and smokers were included in both groups. Breath samples were collected in the same rooms on the same days. The only assistant who knew which breath samples came from cancer patients was out of the room whenever the dogs were working.

In 2007, Pine Street Foundation began chemical analysis on collected breath samples to try to figure out what the dogs are cueing on. Plans are underway to launch a study which should show whether the dogs will be useful in diagnosing early stage ovarian cancer.


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7 Responses to Tumor-Sniffing Dogs Hold Key to Early Detection of Lung and Breast Cancers?

  1. Pingback: Lung Cancer

  2. Barb says:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s a great article. I think it is fascinating that dogs are being used in these studies. I know of a goldendoodle that has been in a prostate cancer study and has had a good success rate.

  3. Mary says:

    I’d heard of this but tended to think that it was just a few very special dogs with this capability. Great article, great info.

  4. shannon says:

    My dog sniffed out my breast cancer. I had mammograms, needle biopsies, ultra sounds done and was told to come back in 6 months. It was only when I had a surgical biopsy that the cancer was finally diagnosed, EIGHT months after my dog had found it. Amazingly he also sniffed out a benign growth two years later. Every night for more than a year he would sniff my abdomen. I had two sets of ultra sounds done a biopsy and finally a surgical biopsy removed a growth. The night I came home after the surgery he stopped sniffing. I pay close attention when he starts sniffing and my doctor never second guesses me if I tell her my dog is sniffing.

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  6. pam says:

    I live in Houston Tx, where can I find a canine to detect if I have cancer, wiliingvto travel.

  7. DogMom says:

    Pam, I have no idea. It’s not being done on any regular basis — there have only been some preliminary studies. This Wikipedia page has links to a few articles (scroll down to the References section at the bottom):


    There might be some leads in there that you could pursue. You might also contact the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas and ask them if they know anything:


    Good luck!

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