Lucy, a cross between an Irish water spaniel and a Labrador retriever faced a life of being a typical house dog afer failing at guide dog school. She was too easily excited and distracted by everything around her.
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Still, her owners knew that their dog was smart and could do something above playing fetch. Since she was distracted by scents, her owners decided to put that to use. For seven years, they trained Lucy to sniff out kidney, prostate, and bladder cancer. She has been able to detect cancer at a better rate than most lab testing - more than 95% of the time.
Now, Lucy is one of the key members in a clinical trials in canine cancer detection. Medical Detection Dogs, a British organization, has 8 dogs that can sniff out cancer in urine samples from the National Health Service, according to CNN.
Clair Guest, who is the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, was saved when her fox red Labrador, Daisy, sniffer out her breast cancer six years ago. "She kept staring at me and lunging into my chest. It led me to find a lump," Guest remembers. The tumor was so deep that doctors wouldn't have been able to detect it before it was too late.
"Had it not been drawn to my attention by Daisy, I'm told my prognosis would have been very poor," she said.
Dogs are more sensitive to scents than humans are, having 300 million sensors compared to 5 million in human noses. They also have a Jacobson’s organ, which is located in the back of the nose and helps them to smell unique odors.
In this unique study, dogs circles around a carousel that held urine samples, one from a cancer patient and seven from those who don't have cancer. At least one was from someone of similar health to the cancer patient.
The dogs range in type and age, but all were trained for other medical or scientific quests - some failed like Lucy, and others were successful but showed promise for the study.
For some reason, however, this testing has not really caught on.
"We submitted everywhere and could never get it funded to move the research any further," said Gabram, the surgeon-in-chief at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and director of the hospital's AVON Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center.
They think that the cancer sniffing dogs are a hard sell because many people can't imagine their use.
"It would need a lot of years of study and a lot of development," she said. "It's still far from that. People just thought it was too massive to embark on." It's too bad, too, she said, because "I think it's an area of research that's still promising."
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However, there is hope that in the future dogs will be able to be a cost effective way of detecting cancer.