Friday, February 18, 2011

Dogs Who Sniff Cancer

Remember how I told you that dogs are way, way better at smelling things than people are?  Well, even though everybody knows this is true, nobody knows exactly how much better dogs can smell stuff than humans can.  One of my in-depth research sources said that a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 times better than a person's, and another in-depth source said it is 100,000 times better!  So since there is a huge gap between these two numbers, I think this means that people just really can't understand at all what it's like to be a dog and to smell so many interesting things all the time.

But anyway, my point is that because dogs can smell so well, they can do all sorts of important work for people if they are just trained to know what people want them to do.  So for instance, dogs can sniff out drugs and bombs and dead people and bedbugs, like I've already told you in some of my other blogs.

And now another thing dogs are sniffing out is cancer.  This is actually something they have been doing for several years already, but new research with dogs sniffing cancer is still going on every day.  Recently, some scientists in Japan trained an 8-year-old black lab named Marine to find colon cancer by smelling a person's breath.  Marine was taught to do this by sniffing some tubes that people had breathed into, and when Marine sniffed the one from the person who had cancer, she was rewarded with a tennis ball, which is something she really loves to play with.  So it didn't take long for her to catch on and start "alerting" every time she smelled the breath sample from a person with colon cancer.

Marine was so good at this that she got the right answer 95 percent of the time with the breath samples, and when she sniffed poop samples, she was right 98 percent of the time.  In the past, other dogs have been taught to identify cancer of the skin, bladder, lung, breast, and ovaries.  And mostly they just do this by sniffing breath samples or urine samples or skin lesions.

So how can dogs smell cancer?  Well, it turns out that cancer makes a certain sort of chemical smell, and this smell might be caused by volatile organic compounds, whatever those are.  Anyway, somehow the cancer makes some sort of chemical waste product stuff which is different from what the body usually makes, and that chemical stuff goes into the blood, and then it gets into the breath, and dogs can smell it there.

I thought that maybe this discovery about how good dogs are at sniffing out cancer would mean that lots of dogs could get jobs in doctors' offices, which would help the canine unemployment situation.  And also that dogs would have a bunch of money to buy yummy dog food and treats with.  But it turns out that the scientists don't want to pay what it would cost to train that many dogs to have cancer-sniffing jobs.  Instead, they want to build some kind of machine that can sniff cancer just like a dog can.  Well, I say good luck with that!

At least the scientists admit that it will be hard to make a machine that's as good a sniffer as a dog.  And this is because, like I told you, nobody really knows how cancer makes those sniffable chemicals.  But if scientists figure out how to make a machine like this, it would be a good way to help people find out early on if they have cancer, when they can probably be cured.  And it would be lots more pleasant to just breathe into a machine than to have somebody cut you open to find out if you have cancer, so that would be another good thing.  Still, if you ask me, people would be much happier to have a dog in the doctor's office to pet and hug, rather than some cold, boring machine.


  1. Good one, Piper. We agree with you. Dogs have the best sniffers. Mom thinks it would also be great to have a dog in a doctors office to pet and hug.

    Your friends,

  2. Dear Piper,
    I think it is so AWESOME that dogs can sniff cancer! I think it is like totaly CRAZY of the scientists to think that they can "smell" cancer, I think they are just embarrased because a DOG is BETTER than them and people think that dogs aren't smart but I think that is not true, dogs know WAYYY more than we think! Any ways I think it is really cool to sniff cancer like that, can dogs also sniff other disease like AIDS or HIV, and other major stuff? I bet they can and it seems pretty... I can't think of another word for AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL Anyway keep on writing!

  3. Dear Tas,
    I don't know for sure if dogs can sniff other diseases, but probably we can. I know that I can smell all sorts of interesting things when I sniff somebody, but nobody has taught me whether any of the smells are diseases or not. Some dogs can tell if their person is going to have a seizure, and then they paw at the person to let them know they should take their medicine. Also there are dogs that can tell if people who are bipolar are going into the bad part of their illness, and then they remind them to take their medicine. So these are some of the ways that dogs can be really, really smart and helpful to people.
    Love, Piper

  4. Dear Piper,
    One more comment on this blog, that lab looks CUTE in that lab coat!!!! I hope it was comfortable to wear!


  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. The above comment was deleted because it addressed cancer symptoms in dogs, which is not the topic of this blog entry.