Dogs have been useful in sniffing out illegal perishables brought into a country, bombs, and survivors buried under rubble. Now, they may be helpful in detecting ovarian cancer.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center is training three dogs to identify signature compounds that indicate the presence of ovarian cancer, reports the Associated Press (AP) via CBS News. Volatile organic compounds, or odorants, become altered in the early stages of ovarian cancer, reports HealthAim.
Once the dogs are trained to isolate the chemical marker, researchers at the nearby Monell Chemical Senses Center will create an electronic sensor to identify the same odorant. “Because if the dogs can do it, then the question is, ‘Can our analytical instrumentation do it? We think we can,’” says Monell organic chemist George Preti.
Pushing the research is a need for early detection of ovarian cancer. If a chemical analysis of a marker can be established it could lead to greater survival rates of the disease.
More than 22,250 women in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease in 2013, and 14,240 women will die from it. The AP explains further:
When it’s caught early, women have a five-year survival rate of 90%. But because of its generic symptoms — weight gain, bloating or constipation — the disease is more often caught late.
Indeed, about 70% of these cases are identified after the cancer has spread, says Dr. Janos Tanyi, an oncologist whose patients are participating in the research by donating blood and tissue samples. In these cases, the women’s five-year survival rate is less than 40%.
The idea to have dogs isolate a chemical market has shown promise for years, but there has not yet been a major breakthrough, says Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. “We’re still looking to see whether something could be developed and be useful in routine patient care, and we’re not there yet,” he says.
But McBaine, a springer spaniel, Ohlin, a Labrador retriever, and Tsunami, a German shepherd, from the Working Dog Center may soon spark some good news. Cindy Otto, director of the Working Dog Center, says:
If we can figure out what those chemicals are, what that fingerprint of ovarian cancer is that’s in the blood — or maybe even eventually in the urine or something like that — then we can have that automated test that will be less expensive and very efficient at screening those samples.