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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 06:02 GMT 07:02 UK
Dogs 'aiding' in cancer research
Image of one of the study dogs
The conference will hear how dogs can detect cancer
A conference in Northern Ireland is to hear details of research that suggests dogs can help detect bladder cancer.

GPs and vets are working together to discuss what kind of role the animal can play in healthcare.

There have been anecdotal reports of dogs spotting cancer in their owners, but now researchers say they have proved this phenomenon scientifically.

Jeni McAughey from the Royal College of General Practitioners said dogs do make an important contribution.

"I think it is an interesting study and is one where we will need further research done to see how this will fit into other methods of detecting cancer," she said.

"But obviously, if we have got a method that is non-invasive and doesn't cause patients any trouble or any pain, it would be a big help to detecting problems."

She added: "I think it is tremendously exciting that dogs are actually picking things up that tests miss, because unfortunately all our tests are not infallible."

Cancers are thought to produce distinctive odours.

Even when present in minute quantities, it is possible that dogs, with their exceptional sense of smell, might be able to detect these odours.

Urine samples

Scientists at Amersham Hospital, Buckinghamshire, conducted a carefully controlled experiment to see whether dogs could be trained to spot bladder cancer based on the odour of urine samples.

Over seven months, they trained six dogs of varying breeds and ages to discriminate between urine from patients with bladder cancer and urine from patients without bladder cancer.

On nine different occasions, each dog was offered a set of seven urine samples, of which only one came from a patient with bladder cancer.

Overall, the dogs correctly selected the bladder cancer urine on 22 out of 54 occasions.

This success rate of 41% was significantly more than the 14% that could be expected by chance alone.

The scientists' results appeared in the British Medical Journal last September.

They hope to build a tool that is as good at discerning cancer smells as dogs' noses.

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