Woman's best friend

How can dogs detect ovarian cancer?

Published June 27, 2008 7:51PM (EDT)

If I weren't already a crazy dog person, this news would push me over the edge. Scientists have been training dogs to detect cancer by scent for some time, but just recently, Swedish researchers have found that dogs can sniff out the particular smell of ovarian cancer, even at very early stages. According to The American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at all stages is less than 50 percent, but early detection ups those odds dramatically. If it is "found (and treated) before the cancer has spread outside the ovary, the five-year survival rate is 92 percent. However, less than 20 percent of all ovarian cancers is found at this early stage." These doggies could save a lot of lives.

Unfortunately, the Swedish scientists don't believe it would be possible to use dogs in a clinical setting, which would certainly be my preferred cancer screening scenario. (If they sent the dogs out into the waiting room, I wouldn't even complain about having to sit there all afternoon, and I'd probably be a lot more conscientious about getting regular check-ups.) But what this study has taught them is that there is a distinctive odor that marks ovarian cancer, which provides new hope for catching it early. If human beings can just find a way to know what the dogs know, many more women with ovarian cancer could be diagnosed in time to beat it. Which makes you wonder: If they can train dogs to find cancer, call 911, and ride skateboards, how come nobody's taught them to talk yet?

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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