Dogs can use their highly evolved sense of smell to pick out human blood samples with cancer with almost 97 per cent accuracy, according to a study that may lead to inexpensive and non-invasive screening approaches for the deadly disease.
Dogs have smell receptors 10,000 times more accurate than humans', making them highly sensitive to odours we can't perceive, said researchers who presented the study at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting in Florida, US.
"Although there is currently no cure for cancer, early detection offers the best hope of survival," said Heather Junqueira, lead researcher at the US-based healthcare company BioScentDx.
"A highly sensitive test for detecting cancer could potentially save thousands of lives and change the way the disease is treated," Junqueira said in a statement.
The researchers used a form of clicker training to teach four beagles to distinguish between normal blood serum and samples from patients with malignant lung cancer.
Although one beagle was unmotivated to perform, the other three dogs correctly identified lung cancer samples 96.7 per cent of the time and normal samples 97.5 per cent of the time.
"This work is very exciting because it paves the way for further research along two paths, both of which could lead to new cancer-detection tools," said Junqueira.
"One is using canine scent detection as a screening method for cancers, and the other would be to determine the biologic compounds the dogs detect and then design cancer-screening tests based on those compounds," she said.
BioScentDx plans to use canine scent detection to develop a non-invasive way of screening for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.