Sniffer dogs can identify lung cancer patients from breath and urine samples

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Background: Lung cancer is the most common oncological cause of death in the Western world. Early diagnosis is critical for successful treatment. However, no effective screening methods exist. A promising approach could be the use of volatile organic compounds as diagnostic biomarkers. To date there are several studies, in which dogs were trained to discriminate cancer samples from controls. In this study we evaluated the abilities of specifically trained dogs to distinguish samples derived from lung cancer patients of various tumor stages from matched healthy controls. Methods: This single center, double-blind clinical trial was approved by the local ethics committee, project no FF20/2016. The dog was conditioned with urine and breath samples of 36 cancer patients and 150 controls; afterwards, further 246 patients were included: 41 lung cancer patients comprising all stages and 205 healthy controls. From each patient two breath and urine samples were collected and shock frozen. Only samples from new subjects were presented to the dog during study phase randomized, double-blinded. This resulted in a specific conditioned reaction pointing to the cancer sample. Results: Using a combination of urine and breath samples, the dog correctly predicted 40 out of 41 cancer samples, corresponding to an overall detection rate of cancer samples of 97.6% (95% CI [87.1, 99.9%]). Using urine samples only the dog achieved a detection rate of 87.8% (95% CI [73.8, 95.9%]). With breath samples, the dog correctly identified cancer in 32 of 41 samples, resulting in a detection rate of 78% (95% CI [62.4, 89.4%]). Conclusions: It is known from current literature that breath and urine samples carry VOCs pointing to cancer growth. We conclude that olfactory detection of lung cancer by specifically trained dogs is highly suggestive to be a simple and non-invasive tool to detect lung cancer. To translate this approach into practice further target compounds need to be identified.




Feil, C., Staib, F., Berger, M. R., Stein, T., Schmidtmann, I., Forster, A., & Schimanski, C. C. (2021). Sniffer dogs can identify lung cancer patients from breath and urine samples. BMC Cancer, 21(1).

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