Shannen Doherty: Actress' dog Bowie 'detected her cancer' before doctors diagnosed it

Dogs' ability to smell tumours should not be underestimated according to expert leading research into sense of smell 

Heather Saul
Wednesday 03 August 2016 11:47
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Shannen Doherty's claim that her dog could detect her cancer before she was diagnosed by doctors is being backed-up by a specialist.

The Charmed actress is undergoing a course of chemotherapy, to be followed by radiotherapy, after a malignant tumour was discovered in her breast in March 2015.

Doherty, 45, has recorded her journey since beginning chemotherapy on Facebook, including an affecting image of shaving her hair off while being comforted by family.

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, she described how her dog Bowie, a german shepherd, began obsessively sniffing around the area where her tumour was located. Doherty said this behaviour “made sense” once she was diagnosed.

Gesturing to her right side, she went on: “When I got back from surgery, [Bowie] again was kind of right in this area. Then when I had my first chemo, she would sniff my entire body up and down. And she was always protective before, but she has become this crazy, protective dog. It's hard to get close to me when she's around.“

In August, dogs apparently capable of sniffing cancer were approved for use by the NHS in a trial for detecting prostate and other urological cancers.

The trial by Medical Detection Dogs at Milton Keynes University Hospital is more rigorously testing previous research suggesting dogs have the ability to detect certain cancers by smelling odours produced by protein changes in malignant cells.

The trial will look at developing this type of test as a faster and inexpensive alternative to invasive biopsies.

Dr Claire Guest co-founded the charity Medical Detection Dogs in 2008 and says her dog made her aware she was suffering from breast cancer in 2009.

She told the Independent canine sense of smell should not be underestimated.

“They can smell parts per trillion," she said. "That’s the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“The fact that they can pick up on the smell of a malignant tumour is therefore not that surprising.

“This incredible olfactory ability is what we at Medical Detection Dogs are harnessing to develop canine detection of cancer as a scientific method of catching this terrible disease early.

“We use urine and breath samples donated by volunteers to train the dogs. So far in training trials, our dogs have shown 93 per cent reliability. That is streaks ahead of many existing tests.”

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