The training is part of the first-ever federally funded research project to determine if breath can be used to diagnose ovarian cancer.
One of the dogs is Schatzi, who was rescued just before she was going to be euthanized. Now the Shepherd mix rarely fails to detect cancer, according to Dina Zaphiris, a dog mom and trainer from West Hills, Calif. She is working with the Pine Street Foundation, a nonprofit that helps people with cancer reach informed treatment decisions, to teach dogs ovarian cancer-sniffing skills.
To train the dogs, women with and without ovarian cancer breathe into jars that contain pieces of cloth. The cloths are then placed in a long tray, and dogs are rewarded when they sniff out the cancer samples.
“These dogs would rather find a cancer sample than a steak,” Zaphiris told CBS News.
In Arkansas, search-and-rescue dogs are being taught to detect ovarian cancer in tissue and urine samples.
“Dogs already understand scent so far beyond what we can possibly imagine,” Donna Waugh, a trainer and president of the Arkansas Search Dog Association, told the Huffington Post.
She said she could teach a dog to sniff out cancer in just three hours. “They are experts,” she said. “All we have to do is give them a scent we want them to pick out for us, then reward them immediately when they go to it.”
The amazing smelling capability of dogs is widely known. Untrained pets have sniffed out their dog moms’ breast cancer. Dogs have also been successfully trained to sniff out prostate cancer in urine samples; lung cancer in breath samples; and bowel cancer in stool samples.
“Experienced clinicians will tell you people who are really sick … their body odor changes, their breath odor changes,” Michael McCulloch, director of the Pine Street Foundation, told CBS News. McCulloch, who is working with Zaphiris on the ovarian cancer-sniffing project, has published research on dogs detecting cancer for the past 10 years.
“It was a no-brainer that if a clinician can detect these odors, that a dog can be trained to detect them, as well,” he said.
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, agrees.
“Our bodies produce all sorts of things. Some waste materials are excreted through the kidney [or] the liver, some are excreted through the lungs,” he told the Huffington Post. “The concept of there being something that a cancer might produce — a volatile substance [that a dog could smell] – is perhaps not mainstream, but it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.”
PHOTO: Monsieur Gordon