Special Report: Doctor dogs

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Here's an odd question: does breast cancer smell? And if it does, who can smell it?

The answer to those questions apparently barks, loves to be scratched, and has a heck of a sense of smell.

Her name may be Penney, but she's made thousands of dollars for Spray's Pest Control in Hazel Green.

Penney is a doggie detective who sniffs out trouble termites.

What humans can't see, Penney can smell.

Paco is her sidekick, and together they terrorize termites.

So if dogs can smell termites, can they also smell tumors?

Dogs are used in search and rescue, drug stings, and to find contraband.

They can tell when their owner is having a seizure or heart attack, and now they're detecting cancer.

Betty Owens got "Champ" as a Christmas present.

He slept with her from the beginning, but really didn't do much sleeping.

"Every two hours he would get up and sniff me right here," said Betty.

Betty told her doctor that champ kept her up all night.

"He would take his nose and just sniff, sniff," she said.  Betty's doctor demanded she come in for an exam.

"There was a little bitty knot about that big," Betty explained.  She had aggressive breast cancer.

"He was so familiar with his owner that he was actually able to detect the smell of a tumor in his owner's breast," said Dr. Jan Strother. "Champ saved her life."

Champ was even given a state award for living up to his name.

Niki has also earned his keep, too.  His owner, Alan Langford from the Shoals, is a truck-driving, motorcycle riding, former marine, who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

"I never knew that an ex-marine could have breast cancer," he said.

Langford's tumor wasn't found by a mammogram, but sniffed out by his dog Niki.

"He's my first dog.  He's always gonna be my best.  We've got four others, but he's my leader," said Langford. "He saved my life."

Talking about her dog Champ, Betty said, "He liked to sit on this shoulder, but he got to where he was hitting a spot on my right breast, and he was paying attention to it, and I got to feeling around it, and it was a lump."  She continued, "probably I wouldn't have never noticed it had it not been for him."

So does breast cancer smell?

Dr. Robert Lancaster answered, "The garden variety, early breast cancer? No. I wouldn't say that a human being is able to smell that."

But can a dog that has highly advanced olfactory senses?

"There are certain pheromones and odors that are emanated by these tumors," said Dr. Jan Strother.

"We might have five million olfactory senses in our nose, and a dog may have 200 million maybe 225 million," added Dr. Lancaster.

So if canines can sniff out breast cancer in their master, can they do it for other humans?

Dr. Lancaster said, "Because they can do it in you, doesn't mean necessarily that you could take that dog into a room full of people and they could smell a breast cancer in someone else."

So while Lancaster doubts we'll see dogs in doctor's offices anytime soon, he and others like Betty and Alan say never discount the pestering of your pooch.

Dogs are capable of picking up cancerous scents on your breath, and even on your skin, like melanomas.

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