NHS Approves cancer detection dogs

We all know that dogs are amazing companions and can be trained to carry out a variety of different jobs from working as assistance dogs to herding livestock through to detecting a variety of illegal substances. But now Milton Keynes based charity Medical Detection Dogs has been given the green light to run a trial with an NHS trust to find out if dogs can find prostate cancer.

It is well known that a dogs sense of smell is far superior to ours and it is this ability that the team from Medical Detection Dogs, headed by Dr Claire Guest, are utilising in this ground breaking trial which aims to establish how successful dogs can be in finding prostate, kidney and bladder cancer in humans.  In the initial training trials, which were carried out before ethical approval for this next stage was granted, the dogs were certainly very successful with a 93% reliability rate being shown – considerably higher than comparable tests which are available at the present time.

Currently men who are suspected to have prostate cancer are given a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test which measures protein levels produced by the cells of the prostate gland. If these protein levels are found to be within certain parameters then the next step is for a needle biopsy to be taken in hospital, a procedure which is very painful and unpleasant for the patient. Unfortunately the PSA test can result in unnecessary biopsies being taken and one of the potential outcomes of this trial, if successful, is the possibility of Medical Detection Dogs providing a service where specialist dogs will screen urine samples of men thought to be at risk therefore reducing the numbers of individuals who needlessly have biopsies taken.

Working alongside a team from Milton Keynes Hospital Trust Foundation which is headed by consultant Urological surgeon Iqbal Anjum trainers from Medical Detection Dogs will work with 9 specially selected and trained dogs. These dogs will screen urine samples which have been provided by the NHS trust to establish if a sample is positive or negative and in a unique step Medical Detection Dogs are also looking to train the dogs to indicate “maybe” answer if a sample as the potential of cancer being present. It is important to say that at no stage will the dogs come into contact with the patient who donated the sample and they only work within a certain environment.

This trial is particular significant as it is being run under strict NHS protocols with which means that any findings will be scientifically robust and not only will the samples be screened by the dogs but they will also be subject to correlating clinical tests so that the dogs reliability is constantly monitored. Although the one of the aims is to be able to provide a screen service which will ultimately save patient discomfort as well as NHS funds and time the trial is also looking to find molecular biomarkers which will identify a positive test from a negative one as the result of the dogs indications.

While the dogs in the trial have a very important job to do Medical Detection Dogs takes the welfare of each of these amazing animals very seriously. The charity has a strict no kennel policy which means that when the dogs aren’t “at work” they are in the homes of volunteer fosterers or live with their trainers on a permanent basis. Like any dog they enjoy running in the park, playing the woods and going for walks and while they are at the centre they spend time relaxing in the office until it is their turn to work.

Despite this trial being in  its very early stages and having some time to run the implications it could have for more effective testing for prostate cancer along with the  implications this could have for the health of countless men can already be seen. It is certainly a story K9Active will be following with great interest.

You can find out more about the trial on the Medical Detection Dog website: