Dogs that smell cancer will let their owners know when something is wrong. Worldwide, dogs are becoming part of medical teams because of their ability to detect cancer’s unique odors, called volatile organic compounds.
As CNN reports on November 20, dogs can smell cancer’s unique odors because in comparison to humans’ 5 million sensors, dogs’ powerful noses have 300 million sensors. “In addition, dogs have a second smelling device in the backs of their noses that we don’t have, called Jacobson’s organ.”
Jacobson’s organ, also called vomeronasal organ (VNO), is a patch of sensory cells within the main nasal chamber and an organ of chemoreception. The ability to detect chemical stimuli with the VNO can be observed in some animals during the “flehmen” response when the animals open their mouth, curl their upper lip, and inhale deeply. The Jacobson’s organ serves animals in their social behavior and survival skills.
One of the many stories that readers have shared about their animal’s ability “to smell danger” comes from a woman in Germany who said that her grandfather’s life was saved during World War II because his two draft horses (who he used to transport tree logs from the forest) ran off. Only moments later, the very spot where her grandfather and the horses had been working was completely destroyed by aircraft bombers. As her grandfather told her, the horses did not run because they could hear the fighter jets (which they were used to) — but because they actually “smelled danger.”
Like the above horse story, more and more dog owners are sharing their stories of how their life was saved because their dog “acted out,” indicating that something was wrong and that the owner was in danger:
Claire Guest, who is now the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs in Britain, says that six years ago, when she was 45, her fox red Labrador “Daisy” started acting out and lunging into her chest. Guest took her dog’s “acting out” behavior serious and after a visit to the doctor, discovered that she had a tumor deep in her breast.
Priscilla Sharpe shares her story of her dog “Joy” who, at the age of only seven months, kept circling her husband, kept crying and crying, and didn’t want to engage in her usual play with him. When he went to the doctor the following day, he learned that he had advanced prostate cancer. When “Joy” displayed the same behavior with Priscilla just a few months later, she also took it as a sign to pay attention to her health and discovered that she had colon cancer. Both Priscilla and her husband are cancer survivors today because of their dog “Joy.”
“In 1989, doctors at King’s College Hospital in London wrote in The Lancet about a woman whose dog persisted in smelling a particular mole on her leg. That mole turned out to be early-stage malignant melanoma. Over the next 26 years, studies from France to California to Italy have concluded that dogs really can detect the smell of cancer.”