Have you ever wondered if cancer has a distinct scent?
It’s apparently an intriguing question — one that’s asked multiple times in forums around the Internet.
The question first piqued the interest of researchers years ago when anecdotal reports arose of dogs sniffing out cancer in their owners long before doctors knew a tumor existed.
Since then, researchers have been trying to definitively answer that question. But to what end?
“The goal, ultimately, is to be able to measure something through a lab test that is produced specifically by a cancer, and that would allow us to become aware a cancer is present before it can be felt by examination, or found by an x-ray or other imaging test. Then, maybe the cancer could be treated before it ever becomes a problem,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society, who has blogged about the subject.
German researchers made big news in 2011 when they showed dogs, in fact, could be trained to sniff out lung cancer in patients without any symptoms of the disease.
The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, demonstrated that a dog's keen sense of smell could pinpoint trace amounts of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by early-stage tumors.
The German study was replicated in 2012 by Austrian researchers.
Last week, Israeli and Chinese researchers announced that they have successfully detected early-stage stomach cancers with a simple breath test.
While theirs is not the first to use smell as a means to detect illness, it does offer a breakthrough for finding stomach cancer when it is most treatable.
The researchers used a sensor made of nanomaterials — a kind of mechanical canine nose — to detect a unique chemical profile in the air patients exhaled when cancer was present.