For nearly 15,000 years dogs have lived with and served us as companions, hunters, shepherds and most recently detectives. Canine Detectives take advantage of the hundreds of millions of odor receptors they have in comparison to only a few million for humans. Over the last century, their incredible nose makes dogs sought after by nearly every segment of society.
Detection dogs are used to discover hidden illicit and dangerous substances, such as accelerants, explosives, illegal drugs, environmental hazards and other contraband. The service dog industry has changed remarkably in just the last 10 years with the addition of medical alert dogs.
A biodetection dog is a dog trained to detect conditions and diseases in humans. For instance, dogs can be trained to identify the odor of cancer, or minute changes in body odor that reflect dangerous blood chemistry for people with diabetes, Parkinson's Disease, or seizure disorders. These alert dogs can warn their owners, support them during episodes, bring vital medical supplies, and even call for assistance.
Cancer detection, as was other medical condition detection, was spontaneous. In 1989, The Lancet published a case report about a woman whose dog showed a persistent interest in a mole on her leg, which turned out to be skin cancer. Subsequently, other similar anecdotal stories have been reported, including dogs that behaved strangely when their ownders developed bowel, cervical, and breast cancer.
The first controlled research study of canine biodetection was published in 2004 in the British Medical Journal. Church et al demonstrated that dogs can be trained to identify the smell of bladder cancer within urine. As part of Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs, he and other researchers are continuing to research the subject.
The Pine Street Foundation recently announced a study in which their preliminary results suggest that human exhaled breath condensate (EBC) may provide an important source of biomarkers for early detection of ovarian cancer. They tested the ability of trained dogs in California labs to distinguish ovarian cancer from controls using samples of exhaled breath condensate with accuracy of over 97%.