© Igor Normann -

Dogs can hear and smell things from miles away. That's why they may not come when you call them, but open a bag of treats and somehow they are right by your feet.

Researchers are capitalizing on that with women and ovarian cancer. A group of researchers collaborated to investigate using the dog's sense of smell as well as chemical and enhanced DNA analysis as a means of detecting early-stage ovarian cancer. The dogs are taught to smell the cancer in a laboratory setting and then rewarded when they find it.

Ovarian cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in women. When diagnosed early, ovarian cancer has a 5-year survival rate of greater then 90%. However more then 80% of patients are diagnosed at a late stage when even aggressive treatment with surgery and chemotherapy are unable to stop the cancer, making early detection a vital weapon in the fight against the deadly disease.

Organic compounds

There are compounds called volatile organic compounds (VOC) -- or odorants. They are altered in the early stages of ovarian cancer. Researchers have found that trained, working alongside specialized electronic devices, are able to detect very small quantities of the odorants.

The accuracy rate of the dogs is 90%, and the hope is that the dogs will help refine the ability to detect the cancer in the early stages.

The collaboration was between the Working Dog Center of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, the physics and astronomy department of Penn's School of Arts and Science, Penn's Gynecologic Oncology division and the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

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