A dog's nose

Canine cancer detection isn't practical

Man’s best friend was in the news yesterday, as scientists in Japan reported that an 8-year-old Labrador had been successfully trained to distinguish breath and stool samples from healthy people from those with bowel cancer.

We’ve written at length before about previous studies investigating whether dogs can detect various types of cancer. Overall, only a handful of dogs have been successfully trained, with varying degrees of success.

For obvious reasons, it’s highly unlikely that canine cancer detectors will ever be a practical solution for the NHS. As the scientists responsible for this new research point out:

“It may be difficult to introduce canine scent judgement into clinical practice owing to the expense and time required for the dog trainer and for dog education. Scent ability and concentration vary between different dogs and also within the same dog on different days.”

As a solution, the scientists suggest that research should be directed towards identifying the smelly molecules produced by tumours, and developing “electronic noses”. Such devices – which are currently being worked on by scientists around the world – would be able to detect cancer in a highly accurate and reproducible way without the need for feeding and walkies, although they may not be quite as cute.


Sonoda, H., et al (2011). Colorectal cancer screening with odour material by canine scent detection Gut DOI: 10.1136/gut.2010.218305