Fun fact: Dogs can smell prostate cancer. A 2014 study showed that trained canines can detect prostate cancer with greater than 97 percent accuracy.
Not so fun fact: Every year thousands Of men undergo rather uncomfortable biopsies following positive prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests only to discover they do not have prostate cancer after all.
You see where we're going with this?
A team of scientists from the Integrated Nanosystems Development Institute of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center caught on, as well.
"If dogs can smell prostate cancer, we should be able to, too," says Amanda Siegel, PhD. She presented the research of the group at the 253rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
"The idea for this project started with a study published in 2014 showing that trained canines could detect prostate cancer with greater than 97 percent accuracy," says Mangilal Agarwal, PhD, the project's principal investigator.
First, the scientists needed to find out which molecules wafting from urine were the prostate cancer indicators that the dogs had already scoped out. They collected urine samples from 100 men undergoing prostate biopsies. Then, they used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify the organic compounds floating in the "headspace" above the urine samples – that is, they they took apart the smell, piece by piece. With this method, the researchers pinpointed a small set of molecules that showed up in 90 percent of the samples from patients with prostate cancer but not in samples from those who did not have the disease.
Next steps? The scientists are looking to conduct large-scale tests at multiple health centers to confirm their data. They also plan on looping in a local dog trainer and comparing their technique's results to those obtained the old-fashioned way: sniffing by a dog. If all goes well, the scientists figure they can start rolling out their olfactory prostate test to patients and doctors within the next few years.