Can dogs smell cancer? A new meaning of “PET scan”

Doctors know that “PET scan” ordinarily refers to a diagnostic test called Positron Emmision Tomography. However there is a growing body of research suggesting that the other kind of pet — your dog — may also be useful in the detection of cancers and other diseases by virtue of the fact that their sense of smell is 100,000 times more sensitive than that of humans.

Actually, this is not as strange as it sounds. Before the development of high-tech medicine, doctors often used their sense of smell to diagnose certain illnesses. A common example is that of patients whose diabetes is out of control — their breath smells of the chemical acetone (nail polish remover) because of a condition called “ketoacidosis” in their blood. A rare example is maple syrup urine disease which is an inherited disorder where abnormal, sweet-smelling chemicals are present in an affected baby’s urine. A preliminary diagnosis can be made by smelling their diaper!


So it’s not so surprising that dogs may be able to detect “disease odors” that humans can’t smell. Odors could become new “biomarkers” for disease!

More information–dog–canines-detecting-diseases/2

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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