Is It Possible To Smell Cancer?

cancerFor years doctors have checked a patient’s breath to detect some illnesses. Smelling a patient’s breath together with urine and stool samples can help pinpoint a diagnosis.

As part of the metabolism make-up of a person the body also produces various smells which are released into the air and can be picked up.  Different types of illnesses produce different smells from the body.  For instance, if a patient has typhoid they give off an odor similar to baked brown bread while yellow fever can smell like a butcher shop.  With liver failure you get the odor of raw fish and with diabetes the breath will smell like nail polish remover.    Doctors have noticed that people suffering from prostrate cancer may give off a smell like decay.  The list can go on and on.

Some smells released by cancer patients cannot be detected by humans.  Humans have approximately 5 million scent receptors, but dogs have over 300 million scent receptors.  For this reason some dogs have been trained to sniff out cancers and they have been successful much of the time.

A recent research study in Germany found that fruit flies are able to smell some cancers.  Cancer samples caused a particular pattern of activity on their antennae.  Research is ongoing.

Scientists say they now have invented an electronic machine which can be used for sniffing odors.  The machine has many sensors and each has a different strand of DNA.  These sensors are programmed to transpose the mix of chemicals in the air into an electronic signal which the sensors may identify as the smell of a disease. Someday these machines may be more accurate at smelling disease than either dogs or humans.

The development of the electronic odor sniffing devises are still in the early stages of development.  However, it is hoped sometime in the future these machines will be able to detect cancers and other diseases at an early stage allowing better chances for a successful outcome with early treatment of the patient’s disease.