Frankie the dog ‘sniffs out thyroid cancer’
A dog has been used to sniff out thyroid cancer in people who had not yet been diagnosed, US researchers say.
Tests on 34 patients showed an 88% success rate in finding tumours.
The team, presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, said the animal had an “unbelievable” sense of smell.
Cancer Research UK said using dogs would be impractical, but discovering the chemicals the dogs can smell could lead to new tests.
The thyroid is a gland in the neck that produces hormones to regulate metabolism.
Thyroid tumours are relatively rare and are normally diagnosed by testing hormone levels in the blood and by using a needle to extract cells for testing.
Cancers are defective, out-of-control cells. They have their own unique chemistry and release “volatile organic compounds” into the body.
The canine approach relies on dogs having 10 times the number of smell receptors as people and being able to pick out the unique smells being released by cancers.
The man’s best friend approach has already produced promising results in patients with bowel and lung cancers.
A team at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) had previously showed that a dog could be trained to smell the difference between urine samples of patients with and without thyroid cancer.
The next step was to see if it could be used as a diagnostic test.
Frankie the German Shepherd was trained to lie down when he could smell thyroid cancer in a sample and turn away if the urine was clean.
Thirty-four patients, who were going to hospital for conventional testing, took part in the trial.
Frankie gave the correct diagnosis in 30 out of 34 cases. There were two false positives and two patients who would have been incorrectly given the all-clear.
Dr Donald Bodenner, the chief of endocrine oncology at UAMS, said: “The capability of dogs to smell minute amounts is unbelievable.
“The medical community over the next few years is going to have a great appreciation [for them].
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