Italian researchers have announced that specially trained dogs got an “A” for their ability to detect the presence of prostate cancer after sniffing urine samples. Their research follows several earlier studies on the use of medical detection dogs for conditions such as diabetes, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer tumors.
At the American Urological Association’s 109th Annual Scientific Meeting, the scientists reported that the canines scored 98 percent in their study, says Medical News Today. Their research followed a 2010 project in which specially trained dogs could smell volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by prostate cancer tumors into a patient’s urine. Because the earlier effort followed only 33 patients, the Italian study sought to utilize a bigger sample.
Dogs have become attractive as detectives in the medical world because of the unusual sense of smell. While humans have 5 million olfactory cells, dogs claim around 200 million.
Tumors in the prostate can be benign or malignant. Prostate cancer remains the third most common cause of deaths from cancer among U.S. men and the most common in men older than 75, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Fortunately, while this cancer can spread beyond the prostate and become life-threatening, most tumors spread slowly and don’t pose a threat for at least 10 years.
The appropriate type of treatment for prostate cancer depends on how quickly the malignancy grows, if it has spread, the patient’s age, and the overall balance of benefits and drawbacks of therapy. Use of natural remedies, medications, surgery, and radiation is common. Patients who receive chemotherapy usually have advanced disease.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer will occur in 2014 among American men and that the illness will cause 29,480 deaths. The median age of diagnosis is 66. Prostate cancer accounts for 14 percent of all new U.S. cancer cases. As of 2010, 98.9 percent of patients survived at least five years.
In the Italian study, scientists evaluated the accuracy of two trained dogs in detecting VOCs specific to prostate cancer in urine from 677 individuals. Among the subjects, 320 had been diagnosed with prostate cancer from a low-risk to a metastatic level. The remaining 357 in the control group were healthy subjects.
Overall, the pair of dogs scored 98 percent combined accuracy. Their sensitivity to compounds registered 99 percent. Their score for specificity was 97 percent. The first dog scored 99 percent on overall accuracy when detecting VOCs, 100 percent on sensitivity, and 98 percent for specificity. The second received a 97 percent for detecting VOCs accurately, 99 percent for sensitivity, and 96 percent for specificity.
The results suggest that analyzing volatile organic compounds in urine could prove a promising way to detect cancer. Additional use of the canine detectives could also prove helpful in diagnosing or monitoring other disorders.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.