Can Dogs Detect Prostate Cancer?

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Dogs detect prostate cancer with high accuracy
Image: Neil Pollock
  • Researchers at Medical Detection Dogs trained dogs to sniff out prostate cancer from urine samples.
  • According to the results of the trial, the dogs detected cancer with 71% sensitivity and 73% specificity.
  • Researchers hope to develop an artificial dog nose with the ability to detect cancers in urine

We’ve all seen dogs going around sniffing things. Plus, it’s a well-established fact that a dog’s sense of smell is over 10,000 times better than ours. But is it good enough to detect lethal cancer in men? Well, looks like it is. According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, dogs can detect prostate cancers in urine samples with high accuracy.

Prostate cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in the world. 1 in 9 men receives a prostate cancer diagnosis during their lifetime. Levels of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) are currently the most widely used screening test for the disease. However, PSA levels can also rise in conditions such as prostatitis or benign prostatic hyperplasia. Both of which are benign conditions. Thus, PSA screening often leads to overdiagnosis. Hence, researchers urge the need for a more reliable diagnostic test.

This is hugely exciting because one of the challenges of the PSA blood test, the test most widely used at the moment, is that other conditions can cause an elevated PSA but that does not necessarily mean you have cancer. The dogs in this study were able to differentiate between cancer and other prostatic diseases with good reliability

Dr Claire Guest, Medical Detection Dogs’ co-founder

Dogs Detect Prostate Cancer with High Accuracy

Researchers from Medical Detection Dogs trained dogs Florin and Midas to detect Gleason 9 prostate cancer in urine samples collected from biopsy-confirmed patients. Gleason 9 is the most aggressive kind of prostate cancer. The samples then underwent AI-assisted chemical analysis for volatile organic compounds and microbial analysis.

For the double-blind study researchers also presented dogs with biopsy-negative samples to assess the specificity of the diagnostic method.

Results showed that the dogs could sniff out cancer with a 71% sensitivity and 73% specificity. Sensitivity tells us how many samples the dogs correctly identified. Whereas, specificity denotes how many negative samples the dogs correctly ignored.

This additional information could support the PSA and would provide earlier, non-invasive, sensitive detection of clinically aggressive prostate cancers that would most benefit from early diagnosis, simply from a urine sample.  This has enormous potential and in time the ability of the dogs’ nose could be translated to an electronic device.

Dr Claire Guest, Medical Detection Dogs’ co-founder

The authors of the study believe the results of their trial will help develop artificial olfaction diagnostic tools. Thus, providing doctors with a non-invasive and more accurate screening test.

Reference:

Guest C, Harris R, Sfanos KS, Shrestha E, Partin AW, Trock B, et al. (2021) Feasibility of integrating canine olfaction with chemical and microbial profiling of urine to detect lethal prostate cancer. PLoS ONE 16(2): e0245530. https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245530

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