Dogs can be used to detect cancers, Future Health Summit told

Dr Claire Guest of Medical Detection Dogs says their sense of smell can find diseases early

 

Dogs are increasingly being used in healthcare to detect disease and prevent medical emergencies, a conference has been told.

Man’s best friend can be trained as a highly sophisticated “scientific instrument” and biosensor, according to Dr Claire Guest, founder of UK charity Medical Detection Dogs.

Dr Guest told the Future Health Summit in Dublin that awareness of how useful dogs can be in medicine has grown over the past 20 years.

Traditionally, she said, doctors have always relied on smell as one way of diagnosing conditions, but a dog’s sense of smell is much keener than a human’s.

Dogs are being used to screen urine and sweat samples of humans for volatile compounds that might indicate the presence of disease.

Chemical changes

Dr Guest said there was growing evidence that diseases signalled by chemical changes can be detected by the nose.

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, with more than 300 million receptors in their noses, compared to 5 million for humans, she said. Studies show dogs can be used to detect cancer by – for example, drawing attention to changes in moles on a person’s skin. They have also been used to detect prostate cancer from a urine sample.

A human can detect the presence of a spoonful sugar in a cup of tea, but as a comparison, she said, dogs would be able to detect the same amount in two Olympic swimming pools of water.