womanRemember the Golden Retriever who gave his owner the Heimlich maneuver and saved her from choking? Or Maureen Burns, who in 2009 made the news when her Collie mix named Max started acting out of character by moving around the house slowly, seemingly depressed, sniffing her breath and nosing her right breast. The result? Turned out Maureen had a small malignant tumor doctors hadn’t detected through palpation or mammography. What about the death sensing cat that could predict the next resident in a retirement home to “go” by entering his or her room and hanging out? While the cat may not have been the best prediction of a long life, dogs are offering much better assistance to those who may be ill and not realize it.
There has been much research done over the last few years with dogs that can sniff out lung cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, skin cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer by detecting changes in a person’s breath. The theory of bio-detection dogs was first posited in 1989 by a patient with melanoma who reported that his dog kept smelling the skin lesion. Since then, dogs have been trained to detect scents in test tubes filled with a variety of chemical mixtures with and without cancer cells. The hypothesis started with the notion that tumors produce certain chemicals that contain low concentrations of alkanes, the simplest of which is methane, and other smell-specific compounds. Apparently quite a high percentage of dogs have no problem detecting the volatile odors the chemicals give off. The upside is fewer painful, less invasive biopsies and earlier detection.
In the recent case of Sharon Rawlinson, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Penny had been smelling her chest area, not her breath. Sharon ignored Penny’s sniffing, pawing and infatuation with her right breast for months. Then one night Sharon woke up to find Penny standing on top of her, right on the spot where a tumor was growing. Sharon could no longer ignore the pain and Penny’s insistence in trying to communicate with her owner. A visit to the doctor confirmed what Penny already knew, Sharon had breast cancer. Now Sharon is undergoing chemotherapy and is scheduled for surgery to remove the stage three tumor.