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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Canine, M.D.

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a study that finds dogs may have a nose for sniffing out cancer.


Just ahead: why we are where we eat. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Man’s best friend may also be his best doctor. That’s what a team of British researchers discovered recently after it trained a group of dogs to sniff out evidence of bladder cancer in urine samples.

Cancer cells are known to generate volatile organic compounds that can be released into the air through breath, sweat and other biological functions. The scientists figured these compounds might give off specific odors strong enough to be detected by dogs, whose sense of smell is many times greater than humans’. Over seven months, they trained six dogs to pick out the specific odor produced by bladder cancer. The dogs were then put through a series of tests to see if they could distinguish the urine of bladder cancer patients from six other samples taken from healthy people and patients suffering other urinary complications.

In a study published in the current issue of the British Medical Journal, the canine diagnosticians reportedly picked out the samples from cancer patients 41 percent of the time. That’s more than double the probability of a random choice. In one case, the dogs repeatedly chose a sample from a participant who had originally been screened as healthy. Later testing, however, showed the participant did, in fact, have an early stage of cancer in his right kidney.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

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[MUSIC: Billy McLaughlin “Fingerdance” FINGERDANCE (Narada – 1996)]



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