Can Pet Dogs Sense Breast Cancer in Their Owners?

In a recent interview, actress Shannen Doherty discussed some of her personal experiences, along with her belief that her beloved dog Bowie was the first to indicate that she had breast cancer. According to the actress, Bowie would obsessively sniff along the right side of her body in the area where her breast cancer was found. The question appears to be “Do dogs really have the ability to detect cancer?” Many of the leading experts in cancer research believe they do, especially when you consider that a dog’s nose has 300 million sensors, compared with the 5 million found in a human. Dogs also have a secondary sensory system in the back of their noses that humans don’t have called the Jacobson’s organ. This enhanced ability to smell allows specially trained dogs to detect the unique odors (volatile organic compounds) found in cancer.

How to Detect Cancer in the Body

As early as 1989, a doctor wrote about a woman whose dog consistently returned to a particular mole on her owner’s leg. After diagnosis, it was determined that the mole was early-stage malignant melanoma. Over the next two and a half decades, researchers all over the world have concluded that dogs have the ability to sniff out cancer. A retriever/water spaniel mix named Lucy who lives with her owners in the United Kingdom spent seven years learning to smell bladder, kidney and prostate cancer and participated in a study. Lucy has had an astonishing success rate, but both doctors and scientists agree that early detection including mammograms and ultrasound in conjunction with self and physician based exams is the key to a successful diagnosis and treatment program.

Cancer Detection Sniffing Dog Training & Breath Tests

Lucy participated in one of the largest canine cancer detection trials of its nature. One organization in the United Kingdom has as many as eight dogs sniffing out thousands of urine samples to see if they can detect who has cancer. But more than 25 years later, the heightened sense of smell found in canines has not been found to be a commercial success. One doctor based in Atlanta believes that a study in 2013 which concluded that a machine could reliably detect the smell of breast cancer that could be found in the breath samples of patients was encouraging. Funding however was limited, leaving many doctors and researchers to believe that while dogs or machines that can sniff out cancer make wonderful copy, it is still a source that many authorities do not believe could be used commercially.

Importance of Mammograms & Ultrasound Follow Ups

While the initial research is encouraging, canine cancer detection dogs will require many years of study and development. Early detection is paramount to the success of many cancer treatments programs. The possibility of man’s best friend being used as a tool in early screening may be uncertain as researchers are only just beginning to understand and appreciate how powerful a canine nose or an artificial nose for that matter may be. One thing that doctors do understand is the importance of annual screening utilizing mammography and ultrasounds especially 3D Imaging.

Early Breast Cancer Detection Mammograms & Ultrasounds in Stockbridge & Athens, Georgia

If you are interested in learning more about 3D imaging, including mammography and ultrasounds, contact the experienced professionals at Women’s Imaging Specialists today.

About the author: Raja P. Reddy, MD is a board certified diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast imaging. He is also a contributing editor for Women’s Imaging Specialists, a leading provider of outpatient women’s imaging services in the greater Atlanta, GA area.

Women’s Imaging Specialists offers Mammograms and Ultrasounds at locations in Athens, GA; Cumming, GA; Dublin, GA; Eagles Landing, GA; Fairhope, AL; Gulf Shores, Al; Gwinnett, GA; Monroe, GA; and Warner Robins, GA.