BBC News has reported that NHS trials are currently assessing if dogs can detect prostate cancer at an early stage. Scientists looking at Parkinson’s disease are carrying out similar research too. Could these trials revolutionise the diagnosis of illnesses in the future?

Former Conservative Party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, says he wants to see dogs used to detect disease across the NHS. Mr Smith became involved with the charity ‘Medical Detection Dogs’ following his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis in 2009.

Does research support that dogs can detect cancer?

One study shows that specially trained dogs can pick up the presence of prostate cancer in urine samples 93% of the time.

Scientifically, the reason a dog can detect the odour of cancer is thought to be because malignant cells produce volatile organic compounds. A number of studies have shown that these compounds are present in the urine or breath of cancer patients during the early stages of the disease.

Research into dogs detecting cancer dates back to 2004 when Willis et al published a study relating to bladder cancer. Since then supportive research has extended into colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer.

Could this help people who have been exposed to asbestos?

Mesothelioma, a cancer linked exclusively to asbestos exposure, has a very poor outlook and no known cure. This is partly because it often goes undetected until the later stages. Earlier diagnosis could mean that patients would have a better prognosis.

The future of early detection monitoring may include the use of dogs. For people who know they have been exposed to asbestos, this could be particularly important.

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