Smells Like Cancer

Bladder cancer may be detected with scent device

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Did you know that dogs are able to sniff out certain types of cancer? Man’s best friend can be trained to pick up odors in urine that signal bladder cancer. But having labs in the lab isn’t practical.

Scientists in England have developed a device that analyzes the odor of urine.

This "scent device" may one day be used to help diagnose early stage bladder cancer.

"See your doctor if you notice changes in your urine."

Professor Chris Probert, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Translational Medicine, and fellow researchers from the University of the West of England built the device they’re calling ODOREADER.

There are currently no screening tests for bladder cancer. One of the most common symptoms linked to bladder cancer is blood in the urine, a condition called hematuria. However, only 19 percent of patients presenting with hematuria go on to be diagnosed with bladder cancer, according to Professor Probert and colleagues.

Once bladder cancer is diagnosed and treated, the disease keeps coming back in about 60 percent of the cases. Because of this high return (recurrence) rate, survivors must continue to have invasive bladder exams using scopes to check for new tumors. 

These difficulties have added up to a tremendous need for an easy, non-invasive way to detect bladder cancer — a disease that’s diagnosed in about 72,500 Americans every year.

Using the theory that dogs can smell cancer, the scientists developed a system that can analyze the gases given off by chemicals in the urine when it’s heated. These gases are called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The device was tested on a pool of 98 men between the ages of 27 and 91, 24 of whom had bladder cancer and 74 of whom had no history of cancer.

According to the researchers, ODOREADER correctly detected cancer in 23 of the 24 already diagnosed patients. 

"This is certainly a provocative and interesting report," Alexander Kutikov, MD, associate professor of urologic surgical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, PA, told dailyRx News.

"Validation from other groups/datasets is the paramount next step. Since early detection of high risk tumors is the most important clinical goal, understanding of the volume and extent of tumor required to achieve detection using this test will be important," Dr. Kutikov said.

"Comparison to test characteristics and costs of urinalysis and other bladder cancer detection strategies will be informative," he said.

This study was published July 8 in PLOS ONE.

No funding or conflicts of interest information was provided.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 8, 2013
Last Updated:
August 21, 2013