The Nose Knows
Sometimes, man's best friend is capable of sniffing other less obvious things...like cancer.
Steve Werner of St. Louis, Missouri had been going to his doctor, complaining of his ears ringing and nervous panic attacks. Mr. Werner was put through several tests, all which came back negative. A month later, Steve's then 11 year old female golden retriever, Wrigley, would lay next to Steve's ear and sniff...constantly (Steve and Wrigley are pictured right, photo credit St. Louis Post Dispatch).
If it had been me, I would've assumed maybe I needed to clean my ears more often or something. But after nearly a week straight of this strange behavior. Steve suspected otherwise. "I realized she seemed to be focusing on something. At some point, I noticed she was always sniffing at the opening of my right ear. She would set herself up and intently smell my ear," Steve told The St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Steve happened to see something on TV about dogs being trained to detect tumors. Actually, I remember that show last year as well. I think it was on TLC. But Steve went straight back to the doctor, and an MRI revealed a nonmalignant tumor that size of a golfball had spread into Steve's ear canal - straight to his right ear. And of course, this was the ear Wrigley had been intent of sniffing for a week. If the tumor had not been detected in time, Mr. Werner could have had a stroke. He had the tumor removed just two months ago and is doing well.
So can dogs really smell tumors? And if so, how?
Scientists are currently training dogs to detect various types of cancer. While the work is still quite new, results are very promising. In 2003 British study, dogs were successful 41% of the time choosing the correct dish with the bladder cancerous cells. This was a far better rate of pure chance scoring at 14%. A dog's sense of smell is 2000 times stronger than a humans. And they can identify one part urine in 1,000,000 parts water. Very helpful when visiting the public pool. The belief is that cancerous cells emit certain chemicals like various alkanes that dogs are able to sniff out.
Last year, 60 Minutes did a report on this as well. Dog trainer Andy Cook worked with Bee, a cocker spaniel and a dog well known to the scientists involved in previous studies (pictured right). On camera, Bee was 60% successful in sniffing out the cancerous cells in a double blind trial.
Other studies include on in California by the Pine Street Foundation, where dogs are being trained to detect lung and breast cancer. Cocker spaniels and breast cells...sounds more like a Masters & Johnson research project. In California, dogs have been 99% accurate in finding lung cancer and 88% successful in sniffing out the breast cancer. And it's a rigorous study, which included 12,295 separate scent trials - each one documented on videotape. And at Cambridge University, researchers are working with dogs sniffing for prostate cancer. I wonder if that involved canines burrying their noses in guy's crotches. Ouch.
This discovering is amazing. Think of the life-saving potential these dogs carry. It makes me look at my own dogs, actually. Now whenever they smell my leg, I'm going to wonder if they detect cancer or something. But reading these studies has made me think more about my doggies and what wonderous abilities they have.
This is Ilsa. Ilsa is my 12 year old basset/beagle mix. She's named after Ingrid Bergman's character in Casablanca. She has the power to swallow little animals whole. I once witnessed her swallow an entire baby rabbit. I screamed for her to stop, but I was too late and I watched in horror as Thumper's little feet was sucked into my mutt's mouth. I have witnessed her also eating a mole, several baby birds, and what I think was a baby squirrel. In addition to her eating and swallowing skills, Ilsa also has the ability to squish and contort her body under tight spaces...like my fence. Often times, I can be found wandering the neighborhood searching for her, screaming her name. I'm often in a frenzy, imagining her being runover by a car. When I finally manage to find her, she usually has dead animal breath. It always makes for an exciting morning bowel movement.
This is Snoopy. Snoopy is my 11 year old dashund/beagle mix. He is gay. That's what I believe anyway. This little guy has been through a lot, as he was left for dead by his original owner, and he himself had a tumor removed from his side just a couple months ago. Snoopy's uncanny prowess lies with his ability to bring out the beast from even the most docile creatures. Snoopy was torn to shreds by a neighbor's dog, when Snoopy lived with his previous owner, and he had to literally be stitched back together. Then, under my care, he was able to call wild racoons from their hiding places and attack us during an evening stroll. And one morning, he managed to summon TWO opossums and persuaded them to attack him and Ilsa. Although Snoopy has the power to beckon predators, sadly, he does not have the killer instinct himself. Often, he is either getting his ass totally whooped, or he stands idly by while Ilsa takes care of the enemies.
They can both howl very loudly when they hear a fire truck, but alas, I'm not so sure they can sniff out cancer.