Dogs Can Sniff Out Thyroid Cancer in Your Urine

By Jamie Condliffe on at

We know that it's possible to detect some types of cancer by scent alone, and that dogs are even capable of sniffing it out, too. Now, researchers have demonstrated that a whiff of your urine can allow our canine companions to identify whether you have thyroid cancer.

In experiments carried out at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and presented at last week's Endocrine Society conference in San Diego, it's been shown that dogs can give established scientific tests a run for their money when it comes to identifying thyroid cancer.

Using dogs already trained for scent detection, researchers led by Donald Bodenner trained them to detect cancer by presenting them with fresh tissue taken from papillary thyroid carcinoma biopsies. Later, the dogs were presented with urine samples taken from other patients—some with thyroid cancer, others with benign growths.

The dogs were able to identify the differences between cancerous and non-cancerous samples in 30 of 34 cases—an impressive 88.2 per cent accuracy compared to current pathological tests. That makes the the technique almost as effective as existing methods. Arny Ferrando, one of the researchers working on the project, explained in a press release:

"We have taken the next step by asking the dog to tell us whether or not cancer exists before the medical diagnostic system does. We wanted to see, can the doctor utilize the dog to help diagnose cancer? We've all looked at it from a sceptical, scientific standpoint, but the data just keeps leading us to the fact that this has remarkable clinical potential."

It may have been easy to dismiss the idea of cancer identification by scent in the past but, as Ferrando points out, the evidence is stacking up and seems increasingly difficult to refute. The technique will continue to give rise to new technologies that make use of the phenomenon—and hopefully, in time, make it possible to diagnose other cancers, too. [UAMS]

Image by Jon Bunting under Creative Commons license