Can Dogs Sniff Lung Cancer?

November 24, 2017 in Aerowood Animal Hospital

Currently, in New Zealand, there is a medical trail going on at Waikato University to see if dogs can sniff out lung cancer. It’s not an unusual thing to attempt. There have been many news stories in recent years about dogs sniffing out cancer and other illnesses in their owners. In fact, there is a study that shows dogs can sniff out prostate cancer with about 91% accuracy. However, research so far on the subject of lung cancer detection has revealed mixed results.

One such study came from the Journal of Breath Research last year. The research team in that study did an experiment on a group of dogs who had experience with sniffing tasks. For six months, these dogs received training in identifying cancerous compounds in human breath. After the six months of training, the dogs could identify the breath of cancer patients 78% of the time, which is promising. However, they also were only able to correctly identify the lack of cancer in the breath of non-cancer patients 34% of the time. This scenario could lead to false positives, which in turn can lead to unnecessary testing.

However, the researchers state that their study had one potential weakness. They believe that there were certain stressors in the testing environment that could have interfered with the results, such as lack of positive reinforcement during the trial. This new team in New Zealand seeks to overcome that possible confounder. If the new study in New Zealand finds better results, that could be a step towards having a cheaper screening option for lung cancer. It also would be another reason why dogs are such great animals.


Cornu, Jean-Nicolas, et al. “Olfactory Detection of Prostate Cancer by Dogs Sniffing Urine: A Step Forward in Early Diagnosis.” European Urology. Vol 59, Issue 2.

Hackner, Klaus, et al. “Canine Scent Detection for the Diagnosis of Lung Cancer in a Screening-like Situation.” Journal of Breath Research, Vol. 10, Issue 4.

Rutherford, Karen. “Dogs Could Be Key to Lung Cancer Detecting.” Newshub, 23 Sept. 2017,

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