Feb 132015

Tests found that trained animals correctly identified 71 per cent of people who had the disease and correctly dismissed 93 per cent of those who were healthy.

They were able to distinguish between people who had tumours and those who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a separate condition also linked to smoking, according to a paper published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Scientists at Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany believe that dogs, long used by police to sniff out drugs, are able to use their sensitive noses to detect chemicals known as volatile organic compounds that are present in cancer sufferers and exhaled in their breath.

The study author, Thorsten Walles, said: “In the breath of patients with lung cancer, there are likely to be different chemicals to normal breath samples and the dogs’ keen sense of smell can detect this difference at an early stage of the disease. Our results confirm the presence of a stable marker for lung cancer.

“This is a big step forward in the diagnosis of lung cancer, but we still need to precisely identify the compounds observed in the exhaled breath of patients. It is unfortunate that dogs cannot communicate the biochemistry of the scent of cancer!”

Feb 132015

Specially trained “glycaemia alert dogs” were able to detect when their owners’ blood sugar levels were outside their normal range and warn them of the fact, researchers found.

It is believed that the dogs are able to detect potential danger because their keen sense of smell can detect chemical changes in their owner’s sweat or breath.

Similar studies have suggested that dogs may be able to detect cancer by catching the scent of chemical compounds released by tumours.

In the new project, funded by pet training specialists The Company of Animals, studied seventeen dogs which had been trained to spot when their owner’s blood sugar levels began to drop too low or rise too high.

Some of the dogs had been donated and trained by the Medical Detection Dogs charity, while others belonged to participants and were specially trained for the study.

Results published in the PLOS ONE journal showed that all seventeen patients reported benefits, including fewer ambulance call-outs and fainting episodes, and greater independence.

Data recorded by the patients suggested that the dogs had been able to warn their owners of high or low blood sugar with an accuracy significantly above the level of chance, although the success rate varied from animal to animal.

Dr Nicola Rooney, who led the study, said current electronic systems designed to do the same job have “numerous limitations” and that dogs could offer “significant improvements”.

She added: “Some of the owners also describe their dogs respond[ing] even before their blood sugars are low but as they start to drop, so it is possible that the dogs are even more effective than this study suggests.

“While it is believed that dogs use their acute sense of smell to detect changes in the chemical composition of their owner’s sweat or breath to respond to glycaemic control, further research is now needed to further understand how dogs carry out this amazing task.”

Feb 132015

A specially trained female black Labrador retriever picked out early stage bowel cancer in 33 out of 36 cases by smelling the patients’ breath alone – a 90 per cent success rate.

The dog was even more accurate when given stool to smell, correctly identifying the faeces of someone with early stage bowel cancer with 98 per cent accuracy (37 out of 38 cases).

However, the former is potentially more exciting as it holds out the possibility that a person could be “breathylised” for early stage bowel cancer.

This would be a much more pleasant and less invasive testing method than is currently available.

At the moment in England, all men and women aged 60 to 74 are eligible for screening every two years.

They are sent do-it-yourself kits to test for tiny amounts of blood in their stool, called faecal occult blood (FOB) tests.

The result indicates whether a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy is required, which involves putting a probe up the anus to check for abnormalities.

However, the FOB tests are unpleasant to do and not particularly accurate.

The researchers, from Kyushu University in Japan, believed their black Lab was able to identify certain chemicals – called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – produced by cancerous cells.

While one option would be to train up teams of dogs, they thought this was impractical “owing to the expense and time required”.

Writing in the journal Gut, they concluded: “It is therefore necessary to identify the cancer-specific VOCs detected by dogs and to develop an early cancer detection sensor that can be substituted for canine scent judgement.”

Bowel cancer is Britain’s second biggest cancer killer, claiming over 16,000 lives every year.

Mark Flannagan, chief executive of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer said: “This study looks interesting but it is for the scientists to verify whether these findings could lead to future developments for screening.”

Feb 132015

Women at high risk of breast cancer could be screened for the disease by simply breathing into a tube which is then sniffed by a specially trained dog, in a new clinical trial after UK scientists found the animals are highly accurate at detecting other cancers.


A charity is now embarking on a landmark trial to establish if the dogs can accurately detect breast cancer from samples of breath which if proven would ‘revoluntionise’ how doctors think about the diagnosis of all cancers, the researchers said.

The animals working for Medical Detection Dogs in Buckinghamshire have already been shown to be more reliable at detecting prostate cancer than current blood tests, with 93 per cent accuracy when sniffing urine samples.

The results of the prostate cancer trial were published in the British Medical Journal and other reputable scientific publications so now the team are moving on to breast cancer.

Dr Claire Guest, a behavioural psychologist and founder of the charity, said her dog Daisy alerted her to her own breast cancer when they were working on the prostate cancer trial.

Daisy, a fox red labrador, persisted in jumping at Dr Guest’s chest and after medical tests, a deep seated early tumour was found.

Daisy has worked on 6,000 urine samples and has been found to be 93 per cent reliable in detecting prostate cancer.

Early studies, published in medical literature, have suggested dogs can detect bowel and lung cancer in breath samples.

Now six other dogs will be trained to sniff for breast cancer in breath samples for the new trial, which has alreday begun.

The best four will taken forward and tested in the trial using samples from 1,500 women.

Dr Guest said: “We use high drive, working breeds of dogs, like labradors and spaniels. They work for treats and biscuits but they genuinely love to work. They all live in people’s homes, they come in to work in a lab and then go home at the end of the day.”

The dogs are trained to stare intently at the sample when they believe it is positive for cancer.

It is thought the dogs, which can detect scent in one part per trillion, are sniffing out volatile substances given off by cancerous cells.

Dr Guest said: “It is logical that the dogs can detect prostate, bladder and renal cancer in urine samples but detecting breast cancer in breath is something different.

“I genuinely do not know what we are going to find. It is a question that needs answering. If it is found that dogs can detect it, it will change what we know about the diagnosis of all cancers. After all the blood flows around the tumour and then around the lungs.

“If proven it would have a significant impact on what we consider possible in the diagnosis of cancer.

“High risk young women, who are too young for routine, regular mammograms could breathe into a tube every six months and find out quickly and painlessly if they have cancer.”

In the long-term it is hoped the substances that the dogs are detecting can be identified and electronic noses created to pick them up.

But in the medium-term dogs can be used, Dr Guest said.

The charity also trains dogs for use by diabetic patients as they can spot signs their blood sugar is dipping and prompt them to take action. There are 50 medical assist dogs working in this way in the UK at present.

Sally Greenbrook, senior policy officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “We know that work has been ongoing in this area for some time and we welcome any research that could improve the early detection of breast cancer.

“We will be watching this trial with interest to see if medical detection dogs can make a real difference to the early detection of breast cancer in the future, although it is likely to be several years before the results of this trial are available.

“Mammography is the gold standard for screening women aged over 50, so in the meantime we encourage all women to attend their breast screening appointments when invited. Women younger than 50 are not routinely invited to breast screening as it is not as effective in younger age groups, this is why we recommend that all women are breast aware. This means looking out for any changes and reporting anything unusual to their doctor.”

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, said: “It’s nice to see that our four-legged friends are being recruited to help in the fight against cancer, as we know that some dogs can sniff out the molecules given off by tumours.

“But although it’s not practical to use dogs to detect cancer in the general population, the results of this study – once it’s completed – could inform laboratory tests to develop ‘electronic noses’ that might diagnose cancer earlier.”

Feb 132015

Women who take 30 minutes of gentle exercise per day are ten per cent less likely to develop breast cancer but once they stop their risk increases quickly, researchers have found.


A study of nearly 60,000 women found those who had exercised for the equivalent of four hours a week were 10 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who were sedentary.

However the effect was only found in women who exercised consistently over four years.

Women who had been active and had stopped more than five years ago, were more than 16 per cent likely to develop cancer than those who continued.

The findings were not affected by the women’s weight or waist circumference showing that the benefits came from being active, not from losing weight.

There are around 41,000 women and 500 men in Britain who are diagnosed with breast cancer annually.

The latest research is published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Lead author Dr Agnès Fournier, a researcher in the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France, said: “Physical activity is thought to decrease a woman’s risk for breast cancer after menopause.

“However, it was not clear how rapidly this association is observed after regular physical activity is begun or for how long it lasts after regular exercise stops.

“We found that recreational physical activity, even of modest intensity, seemed to have a rapid impact on breast cancer risk.

“However, the decreased breast cancer risk we found associated with physical activity was attenuated when activity stopped.

“As a result, postmenopausal women who exercise should be encouraged to continue and those who do not exercise should consider starting because their risk of breast cancer may decrease rapidly.”

The study analysed data from questionnaires completed every two years by 59,300 women who had gone through the menopause.

The activity was measured in metabolic equivalent hours, which captures both the intensity and duration in one number, with 12 METs the equivalent of four hours of walking or two hours of sport such as cycling per week.

The effect peaked at 12 METs and exercising for longer or more intensely did not cut the risk of cancer further.

Women who exercised at this level for four years or more were 10 per cent less likely to develop cancer over the eight year study period than those who did little or no exercise.

“So, our study shows that it is not necessary to engage in vigorous or very frequent activities; even walking 30 minutes per day is beneficial, ” Dr Fournier said.

During the study period 2,155 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Women who had exercised at this level and stopped more than five years previously had the same risk of cancer as women who had never exercised.

Sally Greenbrook, Senior Policy Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Breakthrough Breast Cancer advises that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day (or 3.5 hours a week) can reduce breast cancer risk by at least 20 per cent.

“Being physically activity doesn’t need to be running or going to the gym – it can be anything from playing actively with your children, walking or gardening – anything that raises your pulse reduces your risk.

“Breast cancer is most common in postmenopausal women so it is great to see evidence like this which supports the message that physical activity in this age group is beneficial.

“In order to help women plan their physical activity, Breakthrough has launched an interactive online resource called BRISK, which includes a weekly tracker tool and provides information about the facts and figures behind physical activity.”