Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Detecting Cancer

"Had I not done the dog screening, I truly believe I would not have had the colonoscopy."
"I would have waited a year, two years, who knows? ... I was lucky to find it [his cancer] early."
Jim O'Mallay, Chicago fire department

"You see a guy who's telling you 'I got tested by a dog and they found my cancer', and people start listening."
Chief Steward Mike Butkus, firefighters union, Chicago

"It is a disgrace, it is an absolute disgrace that this thing [dogs' extraordinary sense of smell and teachability] isn't being grabbed onto like the invention of radar."
"It's the kind of thing that's going to save thousands and thousands of lives."
Glenn Ferguson, co-owner, CancerDogs, Aylmer, Quebec
Chris Roussakis for National Post
Chris Roussakis for National Post    Glenn Ferguson, owner of CancerDogs, shows how his animals indicate they think they smell cancer in breath samples.

No fewer than 50 fire department unions throughout the United States work with CancerDogs and that work has meant that 40,000 men and women working in an environment and in a career known to make such people susceptible to cancers resulting from their work-related exposure to cancer-causing chemicals and cancer-causing conditions, have been screened through the auspices of CancerDogs at a cost of $20 per test. A cost-effective, concern-comforting test that has the potential of forewarning of the presence of cancer in its early stages.

Dogs are well known for the acuity of their sense of smell, and Mr. Ferguson has trained his Beagle hounds, bred for their hunting instincts utilizing their extraordinary sense of smell, to identify and to signify that they have found the lingering odour of cancer in test samples they are exposed to. The co-owner (along with his wife) claims his dogs' cancer finds to be accurate 60 to 70 percent of the time, enabling people to be informed and to receive early treatment; alternately to take preventive measures.

There are a number of limited "proof-of-concept" studies that have been done in the past, that suggest dogs are capable of detecting cancers in breath samples or in urine, with an astonishing degree of accuracy. They are able to detect the chemical byproducts of cancer cells' metabolism, theorized as "volatile organic compounds". Screening using medical technological devices is available for breast, colorectal and prostate cancers, which give people the opportunity to begin treatment early, leading to improved chances of success.

Malignancies such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer, however, are most commonly discovered only when they have reached a late, and often terminal stage. Mr. Ferguson was moved five years ago to train dogs for the purpose of offering a screening method that had the potential of detecting cancers that no technological means had yet addressed. And he made his focus of service offering to firefighters' unions, organized groups whose members are at fairly high workplace-induced risk of acquiring cancer.

CancerDogs' clients range from California, to Texas and Oklahoma. The individual to be tested places a surgical mask on their face and leaves it there for a ten-minute period, after which the mask is placed in a sealable pouch and mailed off to Aylmer, Quebec. The samples are then placed on trays where the dogs are set to sniff them. When a dog seems convinced there is cancer present, it places a paw over the sample. If other dogs also identify that same sample, another sample is requested from the individual, the process repeated, and the test confirmed positive.

Chris Roussakis for National Post
The hounds of Ottawa area's CancerDogs pose in front of breath-sample jars. The company has screened 40,000 U.S. firefighters for cancer, but scientists question whether research supports the work. 
Chris Roussakis for National Post

At that juncture, CancerDogs routinely recommends to anyone whose test has been given a positive diagnosis suggesting they have a type of cancer, to undergo a specialized blood test developed by a company called OncoBlot to identify where the cancer is and what type it is. OncoBlot's test is able to identify 25 specific types of cancer. From that point forward, it is up to medical doctors specializing in cancer treatment (oncologists) to recommend the best course of treatment.

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