The latest success story from the world of cancer research is that of a German shepherd cross named Frankie.

While it is well known that dogs tend to have an excellent sense of smell, Frankie shows just how useful this talent can be. The gifted animal was able to identify undiagnosed thyroid tumours in 30 out of 34 cases by sniffing urine samples - an impressive 88.2 per cent success rate. In fact, he was only slightly less accurate than traditional testing methods.

Thyroid tumours are a relatively rare form of cancer, which normally require a biopsy and a battery of tests to diagnose.

While Cancer Research UK say that using dogs to detect thyroid cancer is “impractical”, Frankie’s ability to differentiate between urine samples suggests that there is potential for a cheaper and less invasive method of diagnosis.

Other trials have found that dogs are also effective at detecting lung and bowel cancers, and studies are ongoing into their ability to detect potentially lethal bacteria such as clostridium difficile.

Arny Ferrando, one of the study’s co-authors, said: "Frankie is the first dog trained to differentiate benign thyroid disease from thyroid cancer by smelling a person’s urine.”

This is because Frankie appears to be making his decisions based on the presence of particular chemicals (not yet identified by humans), for which new tests could be created. In fact, some researchers are now working on the concept of an electronic nose.

However, the study’s senior investigator Donald Bodenner said: "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.”
The team at the University of Arkansas, where the tests were carried out, are hoping to be able to retrain canine veterans as cancer detectors in collaboration with Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, allowing them to find new homes. Frankie was himself a rescue dog found on the streets of Little Rock, showing that pedigree isn’t needed to lead the fight against cancer.

Written by: Hannah