• Frankie has a nose for thyroid cancer

Frankie has a nose for thyroid cancer

A German Shepherd named Frankie is able to detect the presence of thyroid cancer in urine samples of patients with an accuracy of 90 percent.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock said Frankie's success in quickly detecting cancer might be used by physicians to detect the presence of thyroid cancer at an early stage and avoid unwarranted surgery, said a story in Health.com.

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As part of the research, Frankie was repeatedly exposed to cancerous tissue samples to give him an "imprint" of the smell of thyroid cancer. He was trained to lie down after smelling thyroid cancer in a urine sample. The dog was trained to turn away when the sample was benign.

Once trained, Frankie was asked to smell and detect urine samples from 34 patients. The dog correctly identified thyroid cancer in 30 out of the 34 samples, said study senior author Dr. Donald Bodenner.

This meant a nearly 90 percent accuracy rate with just two false-negative readings and two false-positives.

Researchers, however, said it's still too early for Frankie to be used to diagnose patients in real world situations. More studies involving more canine "physicians" are being undertaken, however.

The existing method of detecting thyroid cancer is to use a fine-needle biopsy to analyze the cells and determine if a malignancy is present. Unfortunately, lab tests often turn up ambiguous results and a "sampling error" means that accuracy from this technique is never 100 percent.

All of that can lead to "additional biopsies that are uncomfortable for the patient and/or molecular testing that can be expensive," said Dr. Maria Pena, an endocrinologist at North Shore-LIJ's Syosset Hospital in New York

Dogs have long been used to detect other cancers such as breast cancer and lung cancer. This same concept is now being applied to the detection of thyroid cancer

Researchers agreed using dog sniffers does have merit and should be pursued. They argue that a less invasive but effective method is needed to definitively diagnose thyroid cancer so patients can avoid unnecessary surgical procedures.

It's well known dogs have a very highly sensitive sense of smell. Researchers wondered if Frankie could be trained to spot the chemical signs of thyroid cancer in urine.

Thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S. There are 62,450 newly diagnosed cases of thyroid cancer and 1,950 deaths every year.