By Ally Ruchman, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School
If you had a choice between getting a colonoscopy or interacting in a certain way with a dog, which would you chose? I know that after witnessing both my parents have uncomfortable colonoscopies, I would definitely chose the dog option. But how can a dog sniff out colon cancer? And what does this mean for the future of pre-cancer screening?
First, dogs are specifically trained to sniff out cancer. What does this entail? The dogs are taught to sniff cancer laced breath samples, and sit down in front of the samples that smell of cancer. They are then rewarded with a tennis ball or treat. Some dogs can smell cancer without ever having training. Researchers believe that cancerous cells emit specific odors that circulate through the body and are given off in the stool and breath.
How effective is a dog at sniffing out cancer? A study conducted last year in Japan used a labroador retriever, Marine, who had a 91% sucess rate with the breath test and about a 97% success rate with the stool test. One of the most effective current methods for finding early stage colon cancer is the fecal occult blood test, which only acknowledges early-stage cancer in every 1 out of 10 samples.
What does this mean for the future of colonoscopies and pre-cancer screening? Scientists who worked on the study hope to develop a sensor that will detect the same cancer smells that dogs do. As for now we will have to make do with the technologies that we already have, as scientists say it is too time consuming, impractical, and expensive to use dogs.
Ally Ruchman is a junior at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in Rumson, NJ. She loves animals, reading, science, and traveling.