CHICAGO — Oncologists looking for highly-accurate, but not highly-expensive methods to diagnose lung cancer in patients may need not look any further than their local dog breeder community. That’s because a new study finds that beagles are capable of successfully detecting the disease by scent, a major breakthrough in identifying the specific biomarkers of the disease.
Researchers with the American Osteopathic Association say the dogs’ remarkable accuracy may lead to a safe, affordable, and effective mass cancer screening alternative in the future.
The beagles were chosen for their enhanced sense of smell, even compared to other dog breeds. They were able to differentiate between blood serum samples taken from patients suffering from malignant lung cancer and those who were healthy with 97% accuracy.
“We’re using the dogs to sort through the layers of scent until we identify the tell-tale biomarkers,” says lead author Thomas Quinn, professor at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, in a statement. “There is still a great deal of work ahead, but we’re making good progress.”
The researchers are also working on another segment of the study that will involve the beagles sniffing out lung, breast, and colorectal cancer from patients’ breath samples. They say that this study could be the first step on the path of developing an over-the-counter screening test, similar to a pregnancy test, that could detect lung cancer early enough to be treated.
“Right now it appears dogs have a better natural ability to screen for cancer than our most advanced technology,” says Quinn. “Once we figure out what they know and how, we may be able to catch up.”
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women worldwide. More than 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with lung cancer every year.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.