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This dog can smell cancer

This is Frankie, a German shepherd mix. He can sniff out thyroid cancer in patients’ urine samples with 88% accuracy, according to a new study.

Image credit: The Endocrine Society

Image via The Endocrine Society

A trained scent dog accurately identified whether patients’ urine samples had thyroid cancer or were benign (noncancerous) 88 percent of the time, according to a new study by researchers at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). The results were presented March 6 at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in San Diego.

Approximately 62,450 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the US this year, and around 1,950 Americans will die from the disease.

Techniques used to diagnose thyroid cancer include fine-needle aspiration biopsy, which involves the patient having a thin needle inserted into the thyroid gland in the neck to obtain a tissue sample. Donald Bodenner, MD, PhD chief of endocrine oncology at UAMS is the study’s senior investigator. Bodenner said:

Scent-trained canines could be used by physicians to detect the presence of thyroid cancer at an early stage and to avoid surgery when unwarranted.

Study-coauthor Arny Ferrando previously “imprinted,” or scent-trained, a rescued male German Shepherd-mix named Frankie to recognize the smell of cancer in thyroid tissue. Ferrando, who noted that dogs have at least 10 times more smell receptors than humans, said:

Frankie is the first dog trained to differentiate benign thyroid disease from thyroid cancer by smelling a person’s urine.

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German shepherd mix Frankie, a formerly stray dog rescued in Little Rock, Arkansas, was trained to diagnosis thyroid cancer through scent imprinting. Image credit: AM Hinson/BBC

German shepherd mix Frankie, a formerly stray dog rescued in Little Rock, Arkansas, was trained to diagnosis thyroid cancer through scent imprinting. Image credit: AM Hinson/BBC

In this study, 34 patients gave a urine sample before they went on to have a biopsy of suspicious thyroid nodules and surgery. The surgical pathology result was diagnosed as cancer in 15 patients and benign thyroid disease in 19. These urine samples were presented one at a time to Frankie to sniff. Frankie had been trained to alert to a cancer sample by lying down, and turning away from a benign sample to alert the absence of cancer.

The dog’s alert matched the surgical pathology diagnosis in 30 of the 34 study samples, the investigators reported.

Bottom line: A new study by University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) researchers presented March 6, 2015 at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in San Diego described Frankie, a trained scent dog that accurately identified whether patients’ urine samples had thyroid cancer or were benign 88 percent of the time.

Read more from the Endocrine Society

Eleanor Imster

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