Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States. It is estimated that over 220,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed and over 150,000 people in the U.S. will die from lung cancer in 2011. Early diagnosis is a key to treating any kind of cancer. A new study from Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany showed that specially trained dogs may play an important role in the early diagnosis of lung cancer.
Lung cancer is cancer that starts in the tissues in the lungs. Cancer develops when cells grow out of control. These cells can form clusters known as tumors, and can sometimes travel to other parts of the body and continue to grow there.
Lung cancer has traditionally been harder to diagnose than some other cancers because in the early stages, many patients do not have symptoms. Doctors have not had accurate tests to detect or diagnose lung cancer in the early stages. Some research has focused on testing air exhaled from the lungs of patients who are known to have lung cancer. Scientists hoped to find volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that would act as consistent markers if lung cancer was present. Testing for VOCs has been complicated because eating or smoking before the test can mask the results and make the test inaccurate. In addition, it can take a long time for a laboratory to complete the test and provide results.
Researchers at Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany took their study out of the lab and into the kennel to determine whether the keen noses of dogs could succeed where laboratory tests had failed. The study determined that with appropriate training, sniffer dogs can reliably tell whether a patient has lung cancer or not.
For the study 220 volunteers gave breath samples to the research team. Some were lung cancer patients while others had other, non-cancerous lung conditions such as COPD and others were in good health. The trained dogs successfully sniffed out 71 out of 100 samples with lung cancer. They also correctly smelled no lung cancer in 372 out of 400 samples. The dogs’ results were accurate in people who smoked and in those who had COPD.