Dogs have long proved beneficial as therapy for cancer patients, but recent research indicates that they may next have a role in the detection of several types of cancer.

Scent-trained dogs detected thyroid cancer in test cases with nearly 90 percent accuracy, researchers from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences reported last week at the Endocrine Society’s ENDO 2015 conference.

Detecting thyroid cancer can be difficult because doctors are often looking for a very small number of occurrences in a very large background of benign nodules in the thyroid gland, explained Dr. Donald Bodenner, director of the UAMS Thyroid Center.

“It’s also difficult to say with certainty that a patient is cancer-free after surgery,” he said in a UAMS press release. “Having a technique with which to do these things with a high degree of certainty would be a tremendous advance in thyroid cancer.”

In the study, dogs were scent-trained with fresh tissue taken from patients diagnosed with the most common type of thyroid cancer. The dogs were then presented with urine samples from patients—some with thyroid cancer, some with benign nodules.

The dogs’ detection of thyroid cancer matched surgical pathology diagnoses in 30 of 34 cases, or 88.2 percent accuracy.

“We’ve all looked at it from a skeptical, scientific standpoint, but the data just keeps leading us to the fact that this has remarkable clinical potential,” said researcher Dr. Arny Ferrando.

Their findings eventually could lead to cost savings in diagnoses and the prevention of unnecessary surgeries. The dog detectors could also be sent to medically under-served areas where traditional methods of biopsy and ultrasound are unavailable.

Researchers further believe that dog detectors could potentially be used in the diagnosis of such cancers as ovarian, breast, kidney, bladder and prostate.

Additional research is planned in conjunction with a canine performance sciences program at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

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