Cancer detection

1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer.

We are determined to see more people surviving cancer.

Cancer touches all our lives in some way. It is well recognised that early diagnosis is the key to survival. Sadly, many people die unnecessarily due to late diagnosis and current screening methods are not always reliable. Tests for prostate cancer, the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, often give false positive results leading to costly and unnecessary further tests and anxiety for the patient and their family. 

Simon Stephens, CEO of NHS England, said the difference early diagnosis makes to survival is remarkable and that improving the speed of cancer diagnosis is now the biggest challenge facing the NHS.

Our work

There is growing evidence that elevated levels of a ‘signature’ of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are associated with disease growth. Our research has shown dogs can be trained to detect these odours and identify the signature associated with cancer.

We have been at the forefront of canine olfaction work for nearly 15 years. Our founder, Dr Claire Guest led the team responsible for the world’s first study of canine detection of bladder cancer, published in the BMJ in September 2004. 

Medical Detection Dogs are now working on two NHS approved clinical trials. Our urological cancer study with Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust focuses on detecting the VOCs associated with prostate cancer. Our colorectal cancer study in partnership with Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, is investigating the potential of dogs to detect colorectal cancer accurately from urine samples. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer in the UK. Due to the invasive nature of the current screening process, only just over half of those offered will take it up. A non-invasive method that can detect the cancer at an early stage could both increase uptake of the screening and improve health outcomes.

The future

We are on the threshold of delivering an accurate, rapid and non-invasive test to diagnose cancer at an early stage, a test that would be offered to clinicians to use alongside existing diagnostic methods.

An increase in the ageing population, along with widespread screening for prostate-specific antigen (PSA), has contributed to a rise in diagnoses of early-stage prostate cancer. The majority of these newly diagnosed cancers are slow-growing and require no treatment. Identifying the aggressive ones remains a major challenge for clinicians. 

Biomarkers would be used to distinguish between aggressive prostate cancer and indolent tumours, which could identify patients who will benefit from treatment or active surveillance, thereby avoiding overtreatment with invasive tests and therapies.

We are also starting to explore how changes to a person’s microbiome might be linked to the development of cancer tumours and how our dogs can detect changes at an early stage. 

In a new and exciting collaboration as part of our prostate cancer study with the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), we are working with a quantum physicist to develop advanced technologies which will bring the power of the dog’s nose into every doctors consulting room. This is truly ground-breaking. 

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