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Cancer-sniffing dogs approved for NHS trial

Published 08/08/2015

A dog named Daisy who is set to take part in a prostate cancer trial
A dog named Daisy who is set to take part in a prostate cancer trial
A study showed specially trained dogs can detect prostate cancer in urine in 93% of cases (Medical Detection Dogs/PA)

Dogs capable of sniffing out cancer have been approved for use in a trial by the NHS.

Medical Detection Dogs, a charity which works with NHS trusts and universities, has gained approval from Milton Keynes University Hospital for further trials, after an initial study showed specially trained dogs can detect prostate cancer in urine in 93% of cases.

It is hoped canine testing could help show up inaccuracies in the traditional Prostate- Specific Antigen (PSA) test, used to determine if men need a biopsy. The test has a high "false positive" rate, and many men are unnecessarily referred for the invasive procedure.

Mr Iqbal Anjum, a consultant urologist at the hospital , said the study was "an extremely exciting prospect".

He added: " Over the years there have been many anecdotal reports suggesting that dogs may be able to detect cancer based on the tumour's odour. It is assumed that volatile molecules associated with the tumour would be released into the person's urine, making samples easy to collect and test."

Medical Detection Dogs was co-founded in 2008 by Dr Claire Guest, who was the training director of the first study programme to train dogs to identify cancer in 2003.

Dr Guest's experienced the apparent ability of dogs to sniff out the disease herself, when her dog Daisy made her aware she was suffering from breast cancer in 2009.

The normally gentle dog refused to get in the car, and began prodding Dr Guest in the chest. When she felt the patch, Dr Guest realised it was bruised. Tests revealed she had a benign tumour near the surface, and a deeper malign growth, which could have been severe if not for the early diagnosis.

Dr Guest said the incident gave her the "impetus to really believe this could be life-changing for people".

She added: "Britain has one of the worst rates of early cancer detection in Europe. The NHS needs to be bolder about introducing new innovative methods to detect cancer in its early stages.

"Our dogs have higher rates of reliability than most of the existing tests. We know their sense of smell is extraordinary. They can detect parts per trillion - that's the equivalent of one drop of blood in two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

"We should not be turning our backs on these highly sensitive bio-detectors just because they have furry coats."

Two charities, the Graham Fulford Charitable Trust and the Prostate Cancer Support Group, have said they are interested in rolling out the diagnostic service once the trial is complete.

Gary Steele, who founded the Prostate Cancer Support Group, said his team were "so impressed" by the initial trials into using dogs to detect cancer, saying the PSA test left "a great deal of room for improvement".

He added: "If they can prove in this study that dogs are reliable at detecting cancer, then we will have the evidence we need to offer sample screening by dogs as an optional test in our cancer clinic.

"We should not miss this opportunity to save thousands of lives."

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