Sniffing Out Success!

Being the second most frequent form of cancer in males and females throughout Europe with over 340,000 deaths per year, the mysterious detection behind lung cancer may finally be solved.  A recent study, being done by researchers from the Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany, is the first to discover how sniffer dogs can detect lung cancer by the breath of the patients.

Since this disease is not strongly correlated with any kind of symptoms and any sign of early detection happens by chance, researchers have looked to a more reliable alternative to identify lung cancer.  This new method consists of using exhaled breath specimens from patients in order to distinguish if lung cancer is present.  The method depends on detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are linked to the existence of cancer.  Even though several different technological applications have been established, this particular method is complicated to put into use in a clinical setting because patients are prohibited to eat or smoke before the test, sample analysis can take awhile, and there is a high possible chance of interference.  Due to these reasons, there hasn’t been any lung cancer-specific VOCs identified yet.

Fortunately, this new study being done in Germany is figuring out whether sniffer dogs, which had been specifically trained, could be able to detect a VOC in the patient’s breath.  During this study, the researchers worked with 220 volunteers.  These volunteers consisted of lung cancer patients, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients and healthy volunteers.  The researchers had come up with several tests to make sure the dogs were able to accurately detect lung cancer compared to the other volunteers, who were free of lung cancer.

This dog is about to experience a successful sniff in detecting lung cancer!

Out of the 100 volunteers with lung cancer, the sniffer dogs correctly detected 71 of them with lung cancer.  The sniffer dogs also successfully detected 372 samples that did not have lung cancer out of the 400 lung cancer free samples.  Along with this, the dogs were also able to identify lung cancer separately from COPD and tobacco smoke.

Thorsten Walles, the author of this study and from the Schillerhoehe Hospital, stated

In the breath of patients with lung cancer, there are likely to be different chemicals to normal breath samples and the dogs’ keen sense of smell can detect this difference at an early stage of the disease. Our results confirm the presence of a stable marker for lung cancer. This is a big step forward in the diagnosis of lung cancer, but we still need to precisely identify the compounds observed in the exhaled breath of patients. It is unfortunate that dogs cannot communicate the biochemistry of the scent of cancer!

This new discovery has the potential to change the future of lung cancer by finally detecting it at its earliest appearances.  Lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer worldwide so putting an end to its awful existence can obviously save numerous lives, all due to a successful sniff from the K9.


European Lung Foundation (2011, August 17). Sniffer dogs can be used to detect lung cancer, research suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 21, 2012, from

Rainer Ehmann, Enole Boedeker, Uwe Friedrich, Jutta Sagert, Jürgen Dippon, Godehard Friedel, Thorsten Walles.Canine scent detection in the diagnosis of lung cancer: Revisiting a puzzling phenomenonEuropean Respiratory Journal, 2011; DOI:10.1183/09031936.00051711

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