Can Dogs Detect Human Prostate Cancer?

Can Dogs Detect Human Prostate Cancer?

A recent study developed by researchers in the Humanitas Clinical and Research Centre in Milan showed that rigorously training two three-year old German Shepherd Explosion Detection Dogs enable the animals to identify volatile ‘prostate cancerspecific organic compounds’ present in urine samples. The study was published in the Journal of Urology under the title Olfactory System of Highly Trained Dogs Detects Prostate Cancer in Urine Samples.”

These identification skills were tested on urine samples from more than 900 men: 362 patients suffering with prostate cancer and 540 healthy controls. The research group worked with the Italian Ministry of Defence Military Veterinary Center and with an Italian teaching hospital.

The research team reported: ‘A dog handler walked a single dog in a circle around a series of mesh covered bowls. The dog went around the full circle once, and then on the second go-round, stopped at specific bowls if they contained urine with prostate cancer odours.’

The study revealed that dogs have a diagnostic accuracy of 97 percent in terms of both specificity and sensitivity. Further, in one of the animals the sensitivity was a perfect score of 100 percent with a specificity that corresponded to 98.7 percent. For a second dog, sensitivity was of 98.6 percent and specificity of 97.6 percent. Of note, these dogs were also experts in detecting explosives.

Importantly, all animals detected both low-risk prostate cancers and more advanced forms of the disease, as Gianluigi Taverna, leading researcher, explained: ‘The dog has a quality, not quantity, response.’

Based on these results, the research team concluded that “a trained canine olfactory system can detect prostate cancer specific volatile organic compounds in urine samples with high estimated sensitivity and specificity.” Nonetheless, further studies are required to understand the value of this approach when it comes to identify prostate cancer.

These results support the idea that dogs are able to detect human cancer which is an exciting discovery as it opens up novel possibilities for prostate cancer detection that currently lacks efficient screening techniques. The team hopes these outcomes might lead to an improved scenario for non-invasive cancer detection.

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Isaura Santos graduated with a BS in Cell and Molecular Biology from Universidade Nova de Lisboa and a MA in Communication, Culture and Information Technologies from University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL). Her professional interests include science communication, public awareness of science and communication of science through entertainment.

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