Man's Best Friend: Finnish Cancer-Sniffing Dogs to Diagnose Dreadful Disease

© Photo : pixabayJack Russell Terrier
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A Finnish professor, who has been a long-standing researcher of odors, claims certain types of cancer are able to be detected by their smell. Therefore, cancer-sniffing dogs can be trained to differentiate between healthy and sick tissue to help diagnose the disease.

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In his long-term research together with the University of Tampere, Professor Jouko Vepsäläinen from the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio has focused on nitrogen compounds, which all living cells require to live. According to Vepsäläinen, nitrogen production increases dramatically when cancer cells grow uncontrollably, which allows them to be detected, Finnish newspaper Karjalainen reported.

Detecting nitrogenous compounds is said to be particularly helpful in diagnosing cancers of the prostate, ovaries and the abdomen. According to Vepsäläinen, ongoing research may help develop industrially manufactured and clinically applicable diagnostic tests, which could drastically speed up the identification of cancer or precancerous lesions. Here is where dogs, man's best friends, may step in with their keen sense of smell.

"We know with 99-percent certainty that we are on the right track. A dog's sense of smell is incredibly sensitive, up to 100,000 times more accurate than humans. There is a huge dimension of molecules a dog could smell," Vepsäläinen told Finnish national broadcaster Yle earlier.

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In 2015, Finland started a project to teach dogs to detect cancer in urine samples. The twelve dogs quickly managed to distinguish mammary carcinoma in dog urine, with ethical permission being needed to move on to human samples, Project Coordinator Susanna Paavilainen of the Finnish Smell Detection Association (Wise Nose) told Yle. According to her, its takes a dog between several weeks to several months to get the hang of distinguishing between sick and healthy urine.

"Anyone who knows how difficult early cancer detection is understands what an opportunity this is," associate professor Anna Hielm-Björkman of the University of Helsinki told the Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet. She also ventured that correct methods of identification may in the future pave the way for the development of an electronic device for odor detection.

Training dogs to detect cancer is a relatively new feat, yet it is growing in popularity across the globe. Dogs are able to distinguish several thousand of various odor sources, including potentially cancerous ones. In 2015, the adorable Finnish beagle Dexter effectively became the country's first cancer-sniffing dog.

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​A dog has 300 million scent receptors in its nose, compared with only 5 million in a human nose. Furthermore, the part of the dog's brain that is dedicated to analyzing odors is 40 times greater than that of humans.

Canine cancer detection relies upon the dogs' claimed olfactory ability to detect very low concentrations of the aromatic compounds generated by malignant tumors. While research across the world has yielded promising results, no verified studies have conclusively substantiated the validity of positive results.


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