Dogs May Be Able to Smell Prostate Cancer

Posted on June 8th, 2010 by

Dogs may be able to smell the presence of prostate cancer in patient urine samples, according to data presented at the 2010 Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA).

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemical compounds that are derived from a number of man-made and biologic sources, including cancer cells. Data have indicated that concentrations of VOCs differ according to age and produce a scent to which animals may be particularly sensitive. Researchers have been evaluating the capability among dogs to detect cancer by scent; previous research has focused on breast, lung, and bladder cancers.

To investigate whether prostate cancer tumors may excrete certain VOCs through urine that dogs can detect by scent, researchers in Paris trained dogs to recognize the scent of VOCs from prostate cancer cells. The dogs were then trained to distinguish between urine from prostate cancer patients and urine from individuals without cancer. Following this training, the dogs were presented with five urine samples, only one of which came from a patient with confirmed cancer. The animals were instructed to identify the samples from cancer patients.

A total of 66 urine samples were used in the study; of these, the dogs correctly classified 63—meaning in 63 of the 66 samples, they accurately identified which samples were from prostate cancer patients and which were not. The dogs correctly identified 100% of urine samples from cancer patients and correctly classified 91% of samples from people without cancer.

According to the AUA Public Media Committee Chair Anthony Y. Smith, MD, “These data suggest that prostate cancer tumors may excrete certain VOCs that turn up in a patient’s urine and that this ‘scent’ may be specific to prostate cancer.” The next step will be to determine what those VOCs are and to develop a test that can identify them. Further development of accurate screening tests for prostate cancer is an important area of research, as the accuracy of the current primary screening method—the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test—remains suboptimal.

Reference: Cornu J-N, Girardet C, Cancel-Tassin G et al. The use of canines for prostate cancer detection: towards a non-invasive alternative screening tool. Presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Urological Association. May 29-June 3, 2010. San Francisco, CA. Abstract 2159.

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