Man’s Best Friend Could Help Detect Prostate Cancer

Man’s Best Friend Could Help Detect Prostate Cancer


Everyone’s favorite household pet has long been known to have many emotional benefits for their owners. Over the years, dogs have become more welcomed as aides and helps to those who need a stress-reliever and need help dealing with their anxiety, stress and other ailments. With the most recent news that dogs could help detect prostate cancer, it turns out that they can help more than just emotionally. They can in fact help save the life of those around them by sniffing out the smells associated with prostate cancer.

At the May 18 meeting of the American Urological Association in Orlando, Fla., a study showing that trained dogs were able to accurately detect prostate cancer at least 98 percent of the time. Couple with other detection methods, this news could help lead to early detection of the illness, as well as proper treatment options.

Dr. Dianluigi Taverna, chief of the prostatic diseases unit at the Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan, Italy, was the lead author of the study and said to Reuters Health that “using dogs to recognize prostate cancer might help to reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies and better pinpoint patients at high risk for the disease.”

Researchers for the Italian based study enrolled 902 participants for their study, from which they separated into two groups. The first group consisted of 362 men with prostate cancer ranging in severity from very low risk to metastatic disease. The other 540 men and women that took park in the study were considered for the most part to be in good health, or were affected by other types of non-tumor related diseases and/or cancers. Each of the participants that took part in the study supplied their urine to be tested by the two German Shepherds that were trained as part of this study.

The two German Shepherds, both of which were three years old, were trained for five months prior to taking part in the study. Trainers used positive reinforcement at the Italian Ministry of Defense Veterinarian Center in Grosetto, Italy. The trainers used two different methods to train the dogs. They used the “imprinting” method, and the “clicker” method, which both helped teach the dogs, Zoe and Liu, to distinguish between the distinctive scents found in patients with or without prostate cancer. The dogs used in the study had previous experience being trained before, having both been trained in the past to be used as explosive detecting dogs.

During the training period for the dogs, 200 urine samples provided by the participants in the cancer group and an additional 230 samples came from the control group. The dogs were then taught to recognize the volatile organic compounds (VOC) that are prostate cancer specific. When it came time for the dogs to be used in the evaluation phase of the study, new samples were provided from participants in both groups.

How It Worked

Trainers instructed the dogs to sit directly in front of each urine sample in which they detected the VOC’s found in prostate cancer. The team members involved with the study were unaware of which sample contained the urine from which group. The only person involved with the study that knew which sample came from which group was the chief medical veterinary surgeon, who viewed the activities from outside the room. When the results were verified, the dogs were rewarded for their correctly identified samples.


The German Shepherd, dubbed, Dog 1, was found to be 100 percent accurate in detecting which sample came from the prostate cancer group. This dog was also able to determine with 98 percent accuracy in eliminating samples that didn’t come from the cancer group.

Dog 2 wasn’t as successful in the process as the first dog, but it was still successful. The dog had a 98.6 percent accuracy rating in detecting the samples from the urine that came from the cancer group and 96.4 percent accurate in eliminating those without the illness.

What it Means

The results of this study are encouraging, but the use of canines isn’t going to replace human doctors anytime in the near future. While these dogs can detect prostate cancer, they can’t provide all the useful and important information that is needed including size and location of the tumor, as well as the age of the patient. These are all important determining factors in determining the treatment method and choices for patients.

The use of dogs to help detect prostate cancer is something that can be used with other diagnostic tools that are considered to be more common like biopsies, MRI’s and PSA.

The findings of the study are considered to be remarkable and provocative, but Dr. J. Kellogg Parsons, a surgeon at the University of California-San Diego Moores Comprehensive Cancer Center feels that more validation is needed.

“The results need to be validated in different patient populations and using different dogs. If the results can be replicated, then we need to zero in on the biological or chemical factor(s) that are play,” Parsons said. 

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