Training Dogs to Sniff Out Lung Cancer Nodules


Patient Education

Training Dogs to Sniff Out Lung Cancer Nodules

One of the eye catching topics at the recent World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC) was about training dogs to sniff out malignant lung cancer nodules. The World Conference on Lung Cancer is the world’s largest meeting involving lung cancer specialists, researchers, doctors, from many countries, discussing about lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies. Several doctors from OncoCare Care Cancer Centre (Singapore) attended the meeting in September 2018.

The headline was certainly catchy, especially for dog lovers! Dr Angela Guirao, MD, a thoracic surgeon,  from Barcelona, Spain, discussed the topic,  “Trained Dogs Can Identify Malignant  Pulmonary Nodules in Exhaled Gas” as part of  an oral abstract discussion on lung cancer screening. Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell. The theory is that lung cancer affects  the nature of volatile organic compounds  (VOCs) that come from everyone and  could be detected in exhaled  breath. The star of the study is Blat, a four-year-old  male Labrador retriever/pitbull mix, who successfully recognized 27 of 30 indeterminate lung nodules as having lung cancer  and three as negative for lung cancer. The results were confirmed by pathology surgery reports. The procedure of the study was certainly tough on Blat. He smelled 90  samples with  indeterminate  pulmonary  nodule (3 per patient) and 372  samples from  those without  pulmonary nodules or lung cancer. The author felt that since a dog’s sense of  smell has a higher biosensor concentration  than the best technology available, this could be a potential avenue to explore in lung cancer screening. Earlier detection of lung cancer would translate into better survival.

Putting the result in perspective, the study was dependent on a single trained-dog and the practical applications are challenging. Nonetheless, it does highlight lung cancer whom we see at OncoCare Cancer Centre daily. Many patients do not present at an early stage for surgery, but advances discussed at meetings like WCLC, and the dogged efforts of researchers provide hope for patients. 

“Expert knowledge means better care for cancer”  


Written by:

Dr Leong Swan Swan
Dr Peter Ang
MBBS (Singapore)  MBBS (Singapore)
M.Med (Singapore)  M.Med (Singapore)
MRCP (United Kingdom)
MRCP (United Kingdom)
FAMS (Medical Oncology) FAMS (Medical Oncology)