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Man's Best Friend Fights Cancer?

You've heard of the Crime Dog, Smokey the Bear and Lassie, but I bet you've never heard of Fido the Physician. Seems the British Medical Journal published a study this week that showed canines may have a special ability to sniff out cancer... Really.

When urine from bladder cancer patients was set out among samples from healthy people or those with other diseases, a group of domestic dogs were able to identify the cancer patients' urine almost three times more often than expected by chance alone.

In all, the dogs selected the right urine on 22 out of 54 occasions, an average success rate of 41 percent. Based on chance alone, they would generally be accurate about 14 percent of the time.

One surgeon believes dogs might be able to pick up the scent of cancer because people with the disease shed abnormal proteins in their urine. It is thought that a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than a human's.

The idea that dogs may be able to smell cancer was first discovered 15 years ago by two London dermatologists, who described the case of a woman asking for a mole to be cut off her leg because her dog would constantly sniff at it but ignore all the other ones. In fact, the dog had even tried to bite the mole off. It turned out she had malignant melanoma -- a deadly form of skin cancer. It was caught early enough to save her life.

I'm not sure that dogs will ever be certified as physicians or that sniffing urine will ever be a foolproof test for bladder cancer either. But it does point out, sadly enough, how we can be so out of touch with our bodies that it takes, in this case, a sniff or two from a four-legged companion to remind us that we need to take better care of ourselves.

Chicago Sun-Times September 24, 2004

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