July 04, 2024

Can dogs really detect cancer?

Can dogs really detect cancer?
Dr. Chris Brown


It sometimes feels like that nose has no limits. But with a sense of smell 10,000 times stronger than ours, can a dog's cold, wet wonder really do what medicine spends millions of dollars doing...and detect cancer?

The interesting answer is below... 

Where it began! Back in 1989, doctors encountered a woman who was concerned about a mole that her dog would constantly sniff and try to bite. Much to their surprise, it turned out to be a malignant melanoma. 

How it works? Like many other diseases and even normal body systems, cancer cells produce and release something called 'odour signatures'. Basically, a collection of chemicals (called volatile organic compounds...or VOC's) that smell 'unique'. 

And remarkably. The fact they smell 'out of the ordinary' makes them stand out to a dog. No matter whether they're producing these chemicals on the skin or in our breath, urine or even faeces. Even in tiny amounts when a cancer is first starting. 

Research has shown that dogs can detect cancer types including:

  • Melanoma
  • Lung Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Breast Cancer



The catch? While dogs can detect the smell as being different, they often need to be trained to know it's important enough to tell someone. But just like drug or even explosive detection work, a toy can be the only reward they need. They just love their work!

And they're good at it! In fact, a 2021 study showed that dogs trained to detect traces of breast cancer in 200 urine samples were successful 100% of the time. Remarkable. 



The breeds most commonly used for cancer detection work also just happened to be the most toy and food motivated! Oh and a strong work ethic helps. So bravo...

  • Springer Spaniels
  • Labradors
  • German Shepherds
  • Belgian Malinois 

So chalk up medical marvel as being just another one of the special skills our furry family possess. Amazing right?! 

Popular right now
Why dogs do THAT leg-spread
Oh boy. So here's why they REALLY eat poo!
Are joints REALLY more sore in the winter?
The (surprising) reason why that lipstick appears

Something to paw over...