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Dogs to be trained to detect bowel cancer in UK medical trial

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By Alice Tidey
A bio-detection dog trained to detect diseases in urine samples.
A bio-detection dog trained to detect diseases in urine samples.   -   Copyright  Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust NHS

Dogs are to be trained to detect bowel cancer as part of a British medical trial, researchers have announced.

During the three-year trial, taking place at the Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, dogs will sniff out urine samples from 2,000 healthy and sick patients to train them in detecting the disease.

Dogs have a renowned acute sense of smell and are able to detect minute odour traces created by diseases.

According to Medical Detection Dogs, the charity training the canines for the trial, dogs can pick up tiny odour concentrations of around one part per trillion — the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools.

They had a 93% reliability rate at detecting prostate cancer in urine samples in an earlier trial.

Increased screening

Researchers hope that the new method will increase screening for the disease and reduce the need for an invasive procedure.

“The current methods used to screen for early bowel cancer invite people over 60 to test their own bowel motions for the presence of invisible amounts of blood, using special sampling kits," Ian Hunter, consultant in colorectal surgery, said in a statement.

Uptake is low, with just 60% of people eligible for the screening actually carrying it out.

“This may be related to the inconvenience of having to test your own poo,” Hunter said.

While the test can detect traces of blood in an individual's faeces, it does not actually detect cancer and people are then invited for a second, much more invasive, screening which involves the insertion of a camera into the rectum to look for evidence of cysts forming.

“Finding new ways to screen for bowel cancer that are more accurate and less inconvenient, such as a urine test, may reduce the number of patients having a normal and effectively unnecessary colonoscopy and increase the number of people taking part in screening,” Hunter added.

It would also ensure patients actually at risk are detected much earlier.

The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is of 51% in England. Caught at stage one, 95% of men and 100% of women will survive five years or more.