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May 21, 2014 07:43 AM EDT

Dogs can Smell Prostate Cancer With 98 Percent Accuracy, Study

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Specially-trained dogs can accurately detect prostate cancer 98 percent of the time, according to a Spanish study. Researchers said that canines could identify volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into urine by prostate tumors, potentially opening a new means of early prostate cancer detection.

Lead author Dr. Gianluigi Taverna from the Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan said that since it is an economical and non-invasive test, hereafter, dogs can be used alongside existing diagnostic tools.

"Using dogs to recognize prostate cancer might help reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies and better pinpoint patients at high risk of the disease," Taverna said, Reuters reports.

It has long been known that dogs posses a stronger sense of smell than humans. Researchers said that dogs feature about 200 million olfactory cells in their nose as compared to 5 million in humans.

While dogs have been recently introduced to the medical industry, highly-trained canines have long been used by law enforcement and military officials to help detect bombs and drugs. In the medical world, dogs have been successful in recognising the onset of epileptic seizures and malignancies of the breast, lung and ovarian cancer.

For the study, researchers divided 677 paticipants into two groups - prostate cancer group (n=320) and control group (n=357). The prostate cancer group featured patients with prostate cancer ranging from those at a very-low risk to metastatic. The control group included participants suffering from non-neoplastic disease or non-prostatic tumors.

Two professionally trained explosive-detection dogs, Zoe and Liu that participated in the tests were 99 and 97 percent accurate in identifying prostate-cancer-specific VOCs in urine samples.

"These data show analysis of volatile organic compounds in urine - a promising approach to cancer detection," said Dr. Brian Stork, an urologist with West Shore Urology in Muskegon, Michigan, in a statement.

Medical researchers hail the study as a significant finding as the accuracy of the standard Prostate-Specific Antigen, PSA, testing for prostate cancer is being questioned. The test that measures PSA (a protein made by prostate cells) has yielded multiple false positive results that led to many unnecessary treatments.

In 2012, the Preventive Services Task Force suggested healthy men to not undergo prostate cancer screening using PSA tests as the false positive rates constituted 80 percent, Seattle Times reports.

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