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Prostate cancer affects thousands of men each year
A pioneering technique using dogs to detect prostate cancer is being developed in Cambridgeshire. Researchers at Cambridge University have applied for funding to test their theory that a dog's sense of smell could provide a better early warning system for some cancers than modern science.
They hope to train dogs to react to cancer cells in urine samples, revolutionising the screening process for conditions like prostate cancer.
If the university gets funding it will ask professsional dog trainer Charlie Clarricoates, of Soham, Cambridgeshire, to carry out the experiment.
Our research would be based on the fact that a dog's sense of smell is so acute that it can detect any change in odour
Dr Barbara Sommerville, of the University's Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, said: "If there is a consistent change in odour the dogs will be able to detect it, of that we are in no doubt.
"At the moment identifying prostate cancer is an inexact science. The tests are serum tests which provide a lot of false positives and some false negatives.
"These create a lot of problems, especially as the next stage of diagnosis is multiple biopsies.
"Our research would be based on the fact that a dog's sense of smell is so acute that it can detect any change in odour.
"There have been recorded cases of dogs spontaneously alerting owners about changes to moles that have turned out to be cancerous."
Labradors are being used to develop the screening process
Mr Clarricoates has already started the process of training three dogs - Black Labrador Tarn, who's two, German Shepherd Chip, four, and Bliss, a seven-year-old Golden Labrador.
He said: "Dogs have been used to assist people suffering from epilepsy, the dog tells the owner they're about to have an attack.
"That can only be done with the dog's scent part of its brain, telling the dog that its owner's hormone system and temperature is changing, so I'm pretty sure dogs can do this.
"We don't know what they're actually going to be smelling. All we know is that a urine sample from someone with cancer will be different."
He believes that with funding they could have dogs trained to sniff out cancer in six months - once tests had been done to make sure the dogs were reliable.