Sniffing Out Colon Cancer
It’s time for me to schedule my next colonoscopy. Five years ago my doctor reported that my colon was beautiful. Yes, those were her exact words. “Your colon is beautiful.”
I was so proud.
Recently I read about a new study citing the ability of dogs to detect colon cancer. It seems that a Japanese researcher has trained a Labrador Retriever to sniff out early signs of colorectal cancer in breath and stool samples. The results were published in an online medical journal called GUT.
The reported study suggests that cancer cells give off odors that circulate in the body and, because a canine’s sense of smell is so sensitive, a dog can be trained to detect early and advanced stage malignancies. If dogs can be trained to sniff out drugs packed in airplane-bound luggage, it might not be so farfetched to assume they could be trained to sniff out cancer. But a few questions come to mind:
- Are there cancer specific scents or do all cancers smell alike?
- How accurate are the dog’s diagnoses and can they be trained to sniff out specific cancers?
- Will Labrador Retrievers soon be in great demand and will only the rich be able to afford them in the future?
- Can my puggle be trained to sniff out cancers and can his diagnosis be as accurate as my sons’ Labrador Retriever?
- What happens when a lab and a bloodhound mate and produce a super scent sensitive dog?
While deodorants, perfumes and bath oils have been used to mask body odors throughout human history, certain maladies are known to bring changes in body odors. Sweet-smelling body odors can be related to diabetes. A foul smell is associated with infections. Cancer tumors are also known to bring about changes in body odors.
Scientists are researching new technologies to mirror canines’ detection abilities. In the future, it is likely that there will be milder, kinder and less invasive ways to detect colon cancer, replacing the colonoscopy. But since that is a future vision, for now we will have to drink those awful prep solutions and schedule our scopes every five years.
I am looking at my dog now with a new sense of respect. And I am not so quick to shoo him away when he starts sniffing the laundry. Maybe he knows more about healthy living than I give him credit for.
Susanne Katz is the author of “A Woman’s Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce,” and an arts and living columnist for Atlanta Jewish News.com. She is also a regular on ShareWIK.com.
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