Posted on Mar 31, 2017, 6 a.m.
Researchers have successfully trained dogs to identify breast cancer by smelling a piece of cloth that had touched the breast of a woman with a tumor.
Isabelle Fromantin, a medical expert at the Curie Institute in Pars, and canine specialist Jacky Experton formed the Kdog project. Inspired by anecdotal evidence of pets warning their owners of cancerous tissues, their goal was to test the theory that cancer cells give off a unique smell, and that dogs could be trained to identify that smell. They presented their findings to the French National Academy of Medicine in February 2017.
The Kdog Project
For six months, Fromantin and Experton worked with two German Shepherds, Thor and Nykios. Thirty-one volunteers with cancer provided samples by holding pieces of cloth to the affected area. They used training techniques based on game-play, with a simple reward system. The samples were placed in boxes with a cone installed for the dogs to sniff through. The samples were mixed with three other boxes containing samples from healthy women. The dogs had a 1 in 4 chance of finding the sample.
In the first round of tests, the two dogs identified 28 out of the 31 samples. In the second round, the dogs reached a 100% success rate.
Affordable and Reliable Early Detection
The purpose of the Kdog project is to provide affordable and effective cancer screening services to impoverished and isolated areas. These areas often don’t have access to modern diagnostic technology, or the costs of mammograms and other types of screening are too expensive. Early detection is key to raising cancer survival rates in poorer countries. Survival rates in first-world France are nearly 85%. Less affluent countries currently achieve rates of 50% or less.
Using dogs to detect cancer is also painless and non-invasive, which can be a determining factor in seeking treatment for some indigenous cultures.
Researchers at the Kdog project are currently planning to repeat the trials, using a larger sampling. The new trials will use two different dogs as well. Funding is currently being sought for future plans.
Project Kdog is the first breast cancer detection study to work with skin-touch samples. Other projects currently working with canines are using skin, blood, urine, and the exhaled air of cancer patients.
Developers hope that one day, the dogs will be replaced by a machine that uses electronic diagnostics to “sniff” out the cancer cells. Samples can then be sent from remote areas for testing.