Truly a Man’s Best Friend: Dogs finds prostate cancer
The Takeaway First
A brand new study (Taverna et al., 2015) published this month in the Journal of Urology reports that dogs can almost perfectly detect signs of prostate cancer in human urine. A team of Italian researchers led by Dr. Gianluigi Taverna trained two dogs to detect prostate cancer with 99-100% accuracy. This marks a huge step forward for prostate cancer detection and yet another reason to be thankful for our canine companions.
Participants in this study were 362 patients with prostate cancer (range low risk to metastatic) and 540 healthy controls.
Two three-year-old German Shepherd Explosion Detection Dogs were trained to detect VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, in the urine of men with prostate cancer.
The first dog achieved a sensitivity rating of 100% (meaning that it detected every urine sample of men who had prostate cancer), and its chances of giving a false positive were less than 3%.
The second dog achieved a 98.6% sensitivity rating, with a 3.6% chance of giving a false positive.
My Take On Dogs Detecting Prostate Cancer
Do you remember back in May 2014 when I was wagging my tail about Dr. Taverna and his team of urine-sniffing dogs? At that time, his two dogs were able to detect prostate cancer in the urine of 677 men at about 98% accuracy. This new study documents the rewards of these dogs’ continued training: practically perfect detection in an even larger sample. As a researcher, what more could you want?
If Dr. Taverna’s future studies go as well as this one did, he can retire early. The current methods of screening for prostate cancer typically involve a PSA test and a biopsy, and, compared to the work of Taverna’s dogs, these methods are highly inaccurate. Only about 25% of men who go in for a prostate biopsy due to a high PSA-level are actually diagnosed with prostate cancer. That’s a lot of anxiety, and not to mention risky invasive surgery, for that healthy 75%.
What You Should Do
Obviously, your own dog will be of no help to you here. The German Shepherds in Taverna’s experiment were highly specialized and rigorously trained to detect VOCs. Since this is a groundbreaking study, canine prostate cancer detectors are probably not available at your local clinic. Taverna makes the point in his paper that his dogs have not yet tested their skills in prostate cancer prediction. The way this kind of research works, it’s going to take several years before they reach a verdict. Rest assured that prostate cancer screening is making big strides in the direction of highly
accurate and non-invasive procedures. I’m excited to see where it goes. Wehter or not we will incorporate dogs for prostate cancer screening is a long shot.
In the meantime, appreciate the dogs in your life. They might save it one day.
Taverna, G., Tidu, L., Grizzi, F., Torri, V., Mandressi, A., Sardella, P., . Graziotti, P. (2015). Olfactory system of highly trained dogs detects prostate cancer in urine samples. J Urol, 193(4), 1382-1387.