Last week a loyal reader sent me a link to an article on Yahoo! that headlined “Dogs detect breast cancer from bandage: researchers” from a French news agency. The article goes on to report that specially trained German Shepherds could successfully detect breast cancer 100% of the time, being able to “recognise cancerous rags from non-cancerous ones”. The article mentions “Working on the assumption that breast cancer cells have a distinguishing smell which sensitive dog noses will pick up, the team collected samples from 31 cancer patients.” And 3 specimens from controls who did not have breast cancer or I think the researchers refer to as “non-cancerous rags”. The story closes with a recognition that “These tests happen within a very specific work environment” and there is should be little fear that women with undiagnosed breast cancer will be attacked at random in the streets of Paris by German shepherds. The team says it is the only one to work with breast cancer detection from skin-touch samples. Other research projects are testing canines’ ability to smell different types of cancer in samples of the skin itself, blood or urine, even the air people exhale.
Obviously, a couple of dogs, 31 patients and 3 controls, if I am reading this right, is not exactly science Wall Street investors will be pouring money into anytime soon. And the radiologists have a strong lobby to prevent dogs from sitting for mammography boards anytime soon. But these stories are fun Friday headlines to start the weekend and think there is hope for medicine yet with all the continued debate about healthcare payment reform, not true healthcare reform.
I met someone who told me that her dog detected her father’s bladder cancer. I have seen my own pets show sorrow when someone was ill in the family or perhaps there was a death that saddened the family. I have watched dogs react to coming home from the hospital after surgery and sensing something wasn’t quite right.
Perhaps there will be a role for animals to play a role in screening. We see these stories and have our personal anecdotes from time to time.
Perhaps in the future, dogs will screen for breast cancer, pigeons will diagnose it (see: Pigeons to Replace Pathologists in Diagnosing Benign from Malignant Tumors) and talking chimpanzees will monitor compliance with oral chemotherapies.
At a much lower cost than it can be done for now…