What Ovarian Cancer Smells Like: Ask a Dog

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2013-08-11 09:37

Doctors are limited in their ability to effectively screen for ovarian cancer, a type of cancer that is challenging to detect, especially in its early stages. If all goes well, physicians and women could be calling in the dogs to help, because it seems if you want to know what ovarian cancer smells like, you should ask a dog.

What role could dogs play in ovarian cancer?

The incredible olfactory (smell) abilities of dogs serve our four-legged companions well for sniffing out food, prey, and danger in the environment. But their sense of smell may also help women and their doctors uncover the early stages of ovarian cancer.

Experts from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Working Dog Center, along with others from Penn’s School of Arts and Science Penn’s Gynecologic Oncology division, and the Monell Chemical Senses Center, have been training dogs to detect the unique odors associated with early-stage ovarian cancer.

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What does ovarian cancer smell like? Some dogs have been able to accurately recognize the distinct odors emitted by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during the early stages of the disease in women.

Going to the dogs
For now, researchers have worked with three dogs—a springer spaniel, Labrador retriever, and German shepherd—and donated samples of blood and tissue from women with and without ovarian cancer. Along with nanotechnology and sophisticated chemical techniques, the dogs’ sense of smell is helping scientists in their quest to develop a new way to screen for ovarian cancer.

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