IU Health Methodist Hospital

Good Boy! Dog Noses Are Most Accurate Detector Of Prostate Cancer

Health & Wellness

July 12, 2018

Methodist Hospital urologist Dr. Tim Large reveals the details on dogs sniffing out prostate cancer – at 91 percent accuracy -- in men’s urine. Far more precise than any other testing method.

Those rambunctious, wayward dogs, distracted by the slightest of scents – never to earn a passing grade in obedience school – are scoring higher than 90 percent in sniffing out cancer with their big, wet noses.

Among their most successful urine-smelling tests? Prostate cancer.

“Dogs have a knack for detecting men with prostate cancer just by catching a quick sniff of their urine,” says Tim Large, M.D., a resident physician in urology at IU Health Methodist Hospital. “They are accurate 91 percent of the time, which is far better than any of the current day methods used to detect prostate cancer in asymptomatic men.”

No. We’re sorry to say, IU Health does not -- yet -- have any specially trained, furry canines running about doing urine tests on men. But it does have some groundbreaking, detection methods, which we will get to in a minute.

But first…the dogs.

Plenty of studies have been conducted on this phenomenon. In Europe, Belgian Malinois shepherd dogs were able to detect prostate cancer 91 percent of the time by sniffing urine from men with and without prostate cancer, Dr. Large says.

A research study in Italy garnered even higher results. Of 900 samples, dogs detected prostate cancer with 98 percent accuracy.

And it doesn’t stop with prostate cancer. A German shepherd-mix named Frankie detected thyroid cancer in urine samples with an 88 percent success rate. Lucy, a cross between a Labrador retriever and an Irish water spaniel smelled prostate, kidney and bladder cancer at 95 percent accuracy.

But why?

Well, dogs just happen to have noses with 300 million sensors, compared to humans who have just 5 million. Dogs also have a second smelling device in the backs of their noses, called Jacobson’s organ.

The double smelling system lets trained dogs detect cancer’s odors, called volatile organic compounds.

And if trained properly, their noses are far more accurate than any lab test.

Bypassing dogs – for now

Even without dogs, IU Health urology is at the forefront of prostate cancer detection and treatment, says Dr. Large.

“We are able to provide patient fusion biopsy technology that uses MRI imaging to identify lesions concerning for prostate cancer and target them with real time ultrasound imaging,” he says. “We’re even using brand new CT scans with special dye that lights up anywhere prostate cancer is hiding in the body.”

Prostate cancer is the third most common cancer in men in the United States. And, typically, it’s a disease without symptoms.

In the U.S., a serum blood test is often used to find a prostate specific antigen – PSA, a protein made only by prostate tissue -- to identify patients at risk for prostate cancer.

But, there has been some controversy surrounding the use of PSA because the blood test can miss up to 30 percent of men with prostate cancer, Dr. Large says.

It can also create anxiety for patients because high PSA can imply cancer, but it does not diagnose cancer, he says.

“Interestingly, our best companion may be the best equipped to protect us from missing a window to treat prostate cancer,” Dr. Large says. “It’s not happening (at IU Health) yet, but who knows what might happen in the future?”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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The most frequently diagnosed cancer in men and second-leading cause of cancer death in men.