Michael Omidi looks at how dogs are being used in laboratory conditions to detect ovarian cancer. 

The American Cancer Society provides some of the following statistics about ovarian cancer:

  • When non-melanoma skin cancers are excluded, ovarian cancer is the 9th most common cancer in women, accounting for 3% of all cancers in women.
  • Ovarian cancer is the most deadly form of cancer in the reproductive system of women and ranks 5th for cancer deaths.
  • In 2013 it is expected that about 22,000 will be newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer and that roughly 14,230 women will lose their lives as a result of the disease.

Tools for diagnosis leave much to be desired and many researchers and medical professionals are striving to find a method of diagnosis that will help them identify the disease while it is still treatable.

With this goal in mind, the University of Pennsylvania and their Penn Vet Working Dog Center are working to test to see if detection dogs are capable of early diagnosis for ovarian cancer. This research is based on the idea that the detectable biomarker left by cancer cells (akin to the smell in urine after eating asparagus, for example) can be picked up by specially-trained canines, which will then allow scientists to manufacture a blood test that is less-invasive and less expensive.

This is not the first study of its kind to test the effectiveness of cancer detection by dogs; many studies have looked at detecting cancers of the breast, prostate, bladder, and skin using dogs and turning this research into possible screening tests or instruments.

Roughly 1 in 10 patients with ovarian cancer receive diagnosis when it is in the early stages and still curable, making this research incredibly important to helping save lives and provide better treatment.

Currently this research is being funded through a grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Ovarian Cancer Foundation and no additional funding is being afforded by the university. If you would like to support the work that is being done at Penn Vet Working Dog Center you can visit their website and make a donation to their efforts.

By Michael Omidi

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