Researchers believe canines have a role to play in disease detection
TUESDAY, June 1 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that dogs can sniff out signs of prostate cancer in human urine, adding to the ongoing debate over the disease-detecting powers of man's best friend.
Some scientists have questioned similar reports of dogs with such diagnostic powers in recent years, but the lead author of this latest study said the findings are promising and could lead to better cancer-sensing technology.
"The dogs are certainly recognizing the odor of a molecule that is produced by cancer cells," said French researcher Jean-Nicolas Cornu, who works at Hospital Tenon in Paris.
The problem, he said, is that "we do not know what this molecule is, and the dog cannot tell us."
Still, the report could represent a significant development since cancer often goes undetected until it is too late to treat.
The detection of prostate cancer has been particularly controversial. Some researchers think many patients are treated unnecessarily because existing tests of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) aren't accurate enough and fail to distinguish between dangerous and harmless cancers.
Urine tests can turn up signs of prostate cancer, Cornu said, but miss some cases. Some types of molecules give a distinct odor to urine, "but today there is no means to screen odors from urine and separate them," he said, and no way to link them to cancer.
Enter the dog, whose powers of smell are far greater than those of humans.
For this study, two researchers spent a year training a Belgian Malinois shepherd, a breed already used to detect drugs and bombs.
The dog was trained to differentiate between urine samples from men with prostate cancer and men without. Ultimately, researchers placed groups of five urine samples in front of the dog to see if it could identify the sole sample from a man
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