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Can dogs smell cancer in humans? Research and diagnosis

Humans have put dogs’ remarkable sense of smell to use by training them to sniff out explosives and narcotics. Their powerful noses can also detect viruses, bacteria, and signs of cancer in a person’s body or bodily fluids.

In this article, we look at the evidence behind dogs’ abilities to smell and identify different types of cancer, and how medical professionals can use dogs to help diagnose the condition.

Can dogs smell cancer?

Research suggests that dogs can detect many types of cancers in humans.

Like many other diseases, cancers leave specific traces, or odor signatures, in a person’s body and bodily secretions. Cancer cells, or healthy cells affected by cancer, produce and release these odor signatures.

Depending on the type of cancer, dogs are able to detect these signatures in a person’s:

  • skin
  • breath
  • urine
  • feces
  • sweat

Dogs can detect these odor signatures and, with training, alert people to their presence. People refer to dogs that undergo training to detect certain diseases as medical detection dogs.

They detect some substances in very low concentrations, as low as parts per trillion, which makes their noses sensitive enough to detect cancer markers in a person’s breath, urine, and blood.

The fact that dogs can detect cancer has significant benefits for humans. Using dogs to detect and diagnose cancer is a low-risk, noninvasive method.

Medical detection dogs present few side effects and may offer advantages because they are mobile, can begin work quickly, and can trace an odor to its source.

They also have the potential for use in patient care settings or laboratories to identify cancer in tissue samples from people with suspected cancers.

Dogs’ abilities may also help with developing machines that can reliably detect odor signatures from cancer, such as electronic noses.

However, research is still underway and the effectiveness and reliability of canine cancer detection requires further research.


Dogs have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell that can detect the odor signatures of various types of cancer. Among others, they can detect colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma by sniffing people’s skin, bodily fluids, or breath.

Researchers are currently exploring the possibility of using specially trained medical detection dogs in the diagnosis and tracking of cancer.

Canine cancer detection is a simple, noninvasive procedure with potentially fewer side effects for people. However, further investigation is necessary to validate this method for use in clinical practice.

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