Can Dogs be Trained to Detect Breast Cancer?

German shepherds undergo training to detect breast cancer through smell.

Dogs have become crucial members of the police force, search and rescue efforts, and bomb detection teams because of their remarkable sense of smell. Therefore, it is no surprise that canines are now being trained to detect cancer in a new initiative called Kdog.

The initiative uses trained German shepherds to detect breast cancer with up to 100% accuracy in recent tests, according to a press release. The results were announced in front of the French National Academy of Medicine.

“In these countries, there are oncologists, there are surgeons, but in rural areas often there is limited access to diagnostics,” said Isabelle Fromantin, who leads project Kdog, according to the Daily Mail.

The results indicate that the Kdog project may be useful in determining breast cancer through a novel method that could be more accurate than traditional mammograms. This project could also increase cancer detection in rural areas, where a patient may have to travel hours to receive diagnostic testing.

In the study, the dogs, Thor and Nykios, underwent 6 months of training in order to correctly identify patients with breast cancer through sweat samples. The canines were exposed to bandages that were placed on the breasts of women with and without cancer.

After successfully completing training, the dogs then completed 2 exercises of sniffing the samples interrupted by a pause, according to the release. The bandages were placed in a box, which the canines were able to stick their snouts into to detect cancer status.

In the first instance, 28 out of 31 samples were correctly identified by the canines, with a success rate of 90.3%. During the second pass, the dogs were able to correctly identify samples from 100% of patients with breast cancers.

Remarkably, the dogs were able to determine healthy patients from those with tumor markers, according to the release. This proof-of-concept study was based on the assumption that breast cancer cells have a distinct smell from healthy cells, and that canine’s noses are able to detect the differences, according to the Daily Mail.

These findings confirm the usefulness of the Kdog project, and highlights the need for further studies. A clinical trial will begin in 2018 using the same principles as the preliminary study, according to the press release.

“There is technology that works very well, but sometimes simpler things, more obvious things, can also help,” said researcher Amaury Martin of the Curie Institute, PhD. “Our aim was see if we can move from conventional wisdom to... real science, with all the clinical and research validation that this entails.”

A video regarding the project suggests that the initiative may be an easy, cost-effective, and non-invasive way to detect breast cancer. All individuals have to do is wear the bandages overnight, and the canines will be able to detect if the person does or does not have breast cancer.

If proven in clinical trials, the Kdog initiative could offer patients a test that would not require costly mammograms and biopsies to receive an accurate diagnosis.