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Dogs May Be Able to Sniff Out Prostate Cancer

May 19, 2014 04:07 PM EDT

Researchers claim that dogs have the ability to sniff out evidence of prostate cancer in men. By simply smelling men's urine samples, dogs can detect with 98 percent accuracy which patients have prostate cancer, new research suggests.

These findings are scheduled for presentation on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Orlando, Florida, Health Day reported.

"With our study, we have demonstrated that the use of dogs might represent in the future a real clinical opportunity if used together with common diagnostic tools," said Dr. Gianluigi Taverna, a researcher with Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan.

The study included a total of 677 people out of which 320 were prostate cancer patients. Development of the test involved training two dogs to identify the presence of certain chemicals produced by prostate cancer tumors, known as volatile organic compounds, in the urine samples. The chemical, if present in the urine, produces an odor that is easily detected by the highly sensitive canine nose.

During the study, the canines were trained to sit in front of urine samples and sniff out the organic compound. An accurate identification resulted in a reward.

After repeated testing, one dog detected cancer at 98.9 percent of accuracy and the other one at 97.3 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually, and 25,000 of those cases result in death.

Detecting prostate cancer is difficult as it does not cause any symptoms in the early stages, forcing patients to undergo several unnecessary tests like the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, digital rectal exam (DRE), transrectal ultrasound (TRUS), or a prostate biopsy.

Researchers hope that their findings will help improve the diagnostic methods currently available to detect this type of cancer.

"Our standardized method is reproducible, low cost and non-invasive for the patients," Taverna explained to Health Day. "The potential of using a dog for recognizing prostate cancer might reduce unnecessary prostate biopsies and pinpoint patients at high risk for prostate cancer."

This is not the first time dogs have demonstrated their cancer-detecting abilities. For example, a recent study found that dogs could accurately identify patients with lung cancer by smelling their breath, said Dr. Charles Ryan.

Taverna and his colleagues presented the findings at an annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Orlando on Sunday, May 18.

The results should be considered preliminary until they've been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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