Researchers at the Arkansas University in Little Rocker wonder if a dog could be trained to sniff out thyroid cancer the same way they detect hidden illegal drugs. The German Shepard named Frankie may be one of the first canine oncologists.
The scientists at the Arkansas University say that Frankie was able to detect thyroid cancer by smelling urine samples from patients. These intriguing results encourage the researchers to think that, in the future, thyroid cancer could be detected at an early stage, thus patients could benefit from treatments leading to avoiding surgery, for example.
At the moment the technique is used only in research context. A member of the team leading the study said that further research is need. But the present results are promising. They are to be presented during Endocrine Society`s annual meeting in San Diego, on Friday.
“Currently, if a suspicious thyroid nodule is detected on ultrasound, a fine-needle biopsy is done to analyze the cells and determine if a malignancy is present,”
said Dr. Maria Pena, an endocrinologist at North Shore-LIJ’s Syosset Hospital in New York.
Dr. Pena explained that the fine-needle biopsy is never 100 percent accurate, and in many cases medicine labs present vague results. This leads to extra biopsies that are most uncomfortable for the patients, in order to determine if there is a case of cancer or not. Maybe Frankie and other dogs like him will give the doctors a hand in the future when it comes to deciding over a person`s illness.
Based on the evolved smell of the dogs, the Arkansas University researchers wondered if they could get the animals to sniff out thyroid cancer, just like they to when they sniff out drugs.
Frankie the German Shepard was the first dog involved in the experiment. He was exposed to thyroid cancer tissue samples so he could acknowledge the smell of cancer. Then he was trained to sit if he smelled imprints of cancer and turn away if he did not.
Frankie passed a test within which he had to sniff out cancer from 34 urine samples. He detected cancer accurately 30 times. This means a 90 percent correct identification. He only missed two positives and two negatives.
It is not the first time when dogs identify cancer. They have detected melanomas, breast cancer and lung cancer, within other types of disease. Researchers want to apply the same concept to the case of thyroid cancer.
“Thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer diagnosis in the United States — there are 62,450 newly diagnosed cases of thyroid cancer and 1,950 deaths from thyroid cancer per year.”
said Dr. Pena. She added that dogs may be our allies in fighting this terrible disease.
However, experts agreed that it is still too early for Frankie to use his abilities out of the research context. In the future, more studies on this matter will be elaborated by scientists. They all hope our canine friends will support us in fighting cancer in the years to come.
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