Dierdra McElroy is part of a handful of specialized dog trainers nationwide that are dogging cancer.
The Lathrop-based California Canine Co. owner is among those working to train dogs that one day could be used to detect cancer in people at a level they believe will be significantly more accurate than many existing medical tests. Earlier detection would not only increase survival rates but significantly reduce medical treatment costs. There have been 375 positive peer review studies over the past five years.
McElroy demonstrated the use of her cancer detecting dogs before the Ripon Rotary Club at Spring Creek Country Club.
McElroy brought a black lab, Karma, into the meeting room where the dog showed its proficiency at locating the one hole in a training device with numerous holes that would normally contain urine from a suspected cancer patient. A hit on the correct hole in tests have confirmed the presence of a malignant tumor below stage one of its growth.
She now has a team of five certified dog sniffing canines including an English Bulldog named “Zeus”. She said because of his short snout, it takes him 30 times longer than a Labrador to hit on a cancer in a study.
“What we are looking for are dogs with a ‘hunt drive’ and I can train Dutch Shepherds (to be proficient) in just six weeks,” McElroy said. “Our goal as a group of trainers is to get public screening approved within five years.”
For demonstration purposes before the Ripon Rotary, she placed a small amount of food in one of the cups (instead of urine) to show the dog’s reaction in finding its target out of five choices. She said the dogs can tell the difference between malignant and benign tumors just by sniffing out the cups. They can also pick the cancerous urine over multiple diseases. Duke University and the University of California at Davis have both undertaken studies. St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton has offered her an office space in their facility for a colorectal study. McElroy said she declined because she would lose control of her study to the hospital.
“It is important during training for our bio-dogs learn to check each and every scent hole and then ‘alert’ on only the holes that have the target odor of the cancer,” she said. “An alert has the dog putting its nose in the correct hole and sitting down simultaneously.”
Canines have detected
cancers that were at
levels below stage one
McElroy explained that in cases of ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancers the medical community is unable to detect a tumor until it reaches stage 3 or stage 4 when it is often too late for life-saving surgeries to remove the growths where her canines have proved detection below stage one.
She noted that some 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives adding that cancer death rates have declined by less than two percent in the last 26 years.
Reviews of patients who had been in remission for five years showed that three of every five tested had their cancers unexpectedly return in three to five months after being retested by the trained canines that cost an equivalent of $30,000 for their training in double blind studies and selected protocols.
The Ovarian Cancer Association of California has funded McElroy who has two Bachelor of Science degrees from a Texas University.
She noted that in the Middle East even doctors are using their noses in addition to the contemporary medical protocols to detect cancerous growths. A scientist in Germany did a study on dogs that surprised the German medical community with its results. Sweden is planning a public screening in the next 10 months, McElroy added.
She said her firm, California Canine, has been doing crime analysis for years in searching out illegal drugs before she got into the cancer studies. Some 300 urine samples are needed to train a dog, she explained. It takes some six months to run a study.
Asked if she could tell someone on the street or in an elevator why a dog who was trained to detect cancer was nuzzling them, she responded that it would be ethically immoral because the federal government had not approved the concept or the process.
“I’m not allowed to say a single word. I’m having to just walk away crying,” she said.
Her current team of cancer detection dogs includes Karma, Louis, Olivia, Zeus and Felony with each dog trained to detect a different form of cancer.
She explained the abilities of a dog’s nose:
Is having a unique print to each dog like our fingerprints.
Has 300 million scent receptors compared to our five million.
The brain area that processes scent is 40 times larger in dogs than humans.
Dogs have an organ other animals do not have that is used for scent discrimination – Jacobson’s Organ.
Dogs can smell in parts per trillion which is equivalent to one drop of water diluted in 20 Olympic sized swimming pools or about three seconds out of every hundred thousand years.
There are hundreds of peer review clinical trials proving that dogs are 99 percent accurate at sniffing out cancer.
Dog detected McElroy’s breast cancer
McElroy told of how her family pet was irritating her by poking his nose into the right side of her right breast – so much that she went to her doctor for an examination. Nothing was found, and because she believed in the dog’s sensitivity that she went to a specialist who was not covered by her insurance and ordered a biopsy of the focus area of her dog. Cancer was found, she said, and it was surgically removed.
She stressed that early detection is vital, saying that mammograms, blood tests and other current attempts at early diagnosis are ineffective and frequently lead to false positives and invasive biopsies.
For more information go to www.detectcancer.wix.com/californiacanine. or www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com. or Cancer Sniffing Dogs of California on Facebook or telephone (209) 679-2033.