A scent-trained dog was able to identify the presence or absence of thyroid cancer in human urine samples 88.2 percent of the time, a new study concluded.
The study out of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) gathered urine samples from 34 university thyroid clinic patients before they underwent a biopsy for suspicion of thyroid cancer.
Fifteen of those biopsies came back positive for thyroid cancer, while the remaining 19 were diagnosed as benign thyroid disease.
Enter Frankie, a male German shepherd mix that had been trained to recognize the scent of cancer in thyroid tissue. Frankie's sharp nose matched 30 out of 34 samples with their pathology diagnoses.
"Frankie is the first dog trained to differentiate benign thyroid disease from thyroid cancer by smelling a person's urine," said study co-author Arny Ferrando, PhD at UAMS, in a release.
The study's senior investigator, Donald Bodenner, M.D., PhD, and chief of endocrine oncology at UAMS, said Frankie was only slightly less accurate than a standard thyroid biopsy with a needle. The dog's results offer the possibility of a cheaper, less invasive approach to diagnosis of the illness.
"Current diagnostic procedures for thyroid cancer often yield uncertain results, leading to recurrent medical procedures and a large number of thyroid surgeries performed unnecessarily," Bodenner explained. "Scent-trained canines could be used by physicians to detect the presence of thyroid cancer at an early stage and to avoid surgery when unwarranted."
Bodenner is not yet using canines in formal diagnoses outside of the study and said the next step will be to collaborate with Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine on an expansion of the scent-training program. The veterinary center plans to train two of its bomb-sniffing dogs to learn how to sniff out thyroid cancer, using samples from UAMS patients.