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War on cancer

Posted: July 8, 2014 8:20 a.m.
Updated: July 9, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The war on cancer, begun with so much optimism several decades ago, has not proven to be as successful as scientists and physicians had hoped. Though there have certainly been breakthroughs, especially in the field of early diagnosis, cures for many forms of cancer have remained elusive. And the hope of eliminating the dread disease altogether isn’t any more a reality today than it was long ago.

But a novel approach to fighting the disease was revealed earlier this week, when scientists at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that dogs have been trained to detect ovarian cancer, a deadly form of the disease that currently has no accurate screening test. Some dogs, according to news reports, have a sense of smell that is 100,000 times more sensitive than that of humans; they’re being trained to recognize certain odors that are produced in the blood and tissue of ovarian cancer patients. Remarkably, they’re detecting the disease with an accuracy rate of about 90 percent.

The hope among the teams at Penn is to develop a sort of “electronic nose” which will have the same diagnostic capabilities as the trained dogs. This would lead to early diagnosis, better treatment and possibly new cures for a virulent cancer that has proven resistant up until this time. Dogs have been used to detect other forms of cancer with some success, but this is a breakthrough that gives doctors and researchers new hope.

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