Can Dogs Sniff Out Cancer?
It is no secret that a dog’s sense of smell is much stronger than a human’s. We use man’s best friend to find drugs and explosives in airports, help find missing persons and even to sniff out cancer. They can be more accurate than laboratories when detecting certain types of cancer!
Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in the United States, and risk increases with age.
Why Would Dogs Want to Sniff Out Cancer?
Why would a dog even be interested in smelling cancerous cells? Dog is man’s best friend. We have domesticated them for thousands of years, providing food and shelter while they reciprocate with companionship, warning us of danger, assisting in hunts, and guarding our homes and livestock. Biologists and evolutionists speculate we never would have made it past the agricultural stage without dogs by our side. This mutualistic symbiotic relationship explains why dogs would be interested in detecting sickness in their masters. If we are sick or injured, it will affect our ability to provide food and shelter to our four-legged friends. Furthermore, sniffing out sickness appeals to a canine’s natural instinct to find prey. This ability is programmed into their DNA, and pivotal to their survival.
Why Is Their Sense of Smell So Powerful?
Our human brains are powered by the visual cortex, whereas the brain of a dog is powered by the olfactory cortex. In short, we rely mainly on our sense of sight while dogs rely on their sense of smell. Canines use their heightened sense of smell to detect pheromones and adrenaline in people as well as other animals. Dogs have an olfactory bulb within their brain which is responsible for processing scent. This bulb is 40 times larger than its counterpart in a person’s brain. Depending on the breed, dogs have about 220 million scent receptors in their nose. Some breeds (such as bloodhounds) can have up to 300 million receptors. What this means is dogs have around 100,000 times the smelling ability of humans.
How Can Dogs Detect Cancer?
Within the human body, cancer cells release different metabolic waste than healthy cells do. Oncologists say humans can detect the smell of cancer through a patient’s breath around stage 3 or 4. A dog’s nose is able to detect the difference in even earlier stages of cancer. Sometimes at stage zero. They can sniff out cancer from urine and breath samples. One study was done with five dogs. The focus group consisted of 169 participants, 86 of whom had breast or lung cancer. The dogs smelled each participant’s breath sample and were able to signal for cancer from stage zero to stage four with 90% accuracy. The way dogs signal for cancer is by lying/sitting down next to the sample if they detect a certain smell. They are then rewarded when they signal correctly.
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