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Cancer-Sniffing Dogs

February 6, 2006

Dogs are routinely used to sniff out everything from illegal drugs to explosives. But new research shows that they can also smell cancer.


Canine cancer detectors. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

You’ve heard of bomb-sniffing dogs, but it turns out dogs can sniff cancer too. Researchers at the Pine Street Foundation in California recently trained five different dogs to smell breast and lung cancer on a patient’s breath. The dogs’ diagnoses were 88 to 99 percent accurate, even when odiferous factors like smoking were taken into account.

So what was tipping the dogs off? Research director Michael McCullogh says figuring that out is the next step. That could pave the way for new technologies that could screen for cancer with a simple breath test.

MICHEAL MUCULLOUGH (Pine Street Foundation, California):
The fact that it was dogs is almost beside the point. Although I should add that the dogs performed so well that now technology really has to rise to the challenge that they laid down.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.