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Dogs can now help detect prostate cancer, says new research

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Posted on 14th Apr, 2015: Scotland Yard or CIA, they all have depended on canines and their sniffing powers to help them solve criminal cases at some point or the other. The ability of dogs to smell tiny amounts of chemicals has made it easy for trained dogs to spot hidden explosives, illegal drugs and other illegitimate substances. But thanks to a new research, the man’s best friend has found a new job quite true to its name.  

Prostate cancer has been the most common type of cancer among men, especially in developed countries, where it is estimated that 1 in 7 men will develop this type of cancer during their lifetime. Moreover, often the lack of symptoms during early stages makes this disease difficult to detect and treat early on. However, a recent study suggests that dogs may be capable of detecting prostate cancer much before the onset of any other symptoms. Currently the only means to detect a prostate cancer is by a blood test known as the PSA test, or a complete biopsy. However, the PSA test is not often preferred because it is not considered reliable enough for screening while biopsy can be expensive.

The research which has been published in Journal of Urology, shows that dogs can almost unerringly detect prostate cancer in urine samples. The research involved two trained German shepherds sniffing the urine of 900 men - 360 of them had prostate cancer and 540 didn't. One of the dogs was right in 98.7% of the time while the other was right 97.6% of the time. This high rate of success comes as a great move in medical history of detecting prostate cancer, especially when the existing tests are woefully inadequate. This study which was carried out by the Department of Urology at the Humanitas Clinical and Research Centre in Milan, confirms tests carried out by Buckinghamshire, based charity Medical Detection Dogs. The co-founder of the Buckinghamshire-based charity Medical Detection Dogs, Claire Guest said the research indicated a 93% reliability rate for dogs. She told a British newspaper the results from the new study were “spectacular”. The research, however, also concedes that more work would be needed to determine just how useful dogs can be as part of an early prostate cancer detection procedure. Also, it is not clear from the study the exact chemical or a mixture of chemicals dogs have been able to detect and if that can be identified then it can pave way for developing tests to detect those chemicals as part of early detection tests.  

Dr Guest of Medical Detection Dogs, which trains dogs to identify human disease odours, is excited about the results and feels that while there is a resistance to adopt a ‘tested, time-old technology’, the detection dogs can provide an alternative solution to an area where otherwise the detection techniques are woefully inadequate and health agencies having been spending millions with little improvement.

Gingertail’s view – Whether dogs ultimately get deployed in disease detection or not, this development is a great step forward towards finding a solution for early diagnosis of a dreaded disease and we are happy that our furry friends have yet again risen to the occasion and given us a helping paw!

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