Saturday, January 14, 2006

Dogs can smell cancer

The easiest research to find is always in the area of disease management rather than disease prevention. Prevention studies are hard because they have to be very long AND that makes them expensive. There is a cool study that was published this week about dogs being able to smell cancer with a very high accuracy rate. Imagine not having to compress your breast just going to the office and breathing into a tube. This is a very cool idea and we look forward to watching the follow up.

What it does lead to is knowing that there are better ways than we currently have - that is great news. The study was done by the Pine Street Foundation. They have a great website and an interesting newsletter. Here is a link to that:

Here is the dog study.

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Dogs' keen sense of smell might help in the early diagnosis of cancer, researchers report in the current issue of Integrative Cancer Therapies. The findings show that trained ordinary household dogs can detect early-stage lung and breast cancers by merely sniffing the breath samples of patients.

"We've seen anecdotal evidence before suggesting that dogs can smell the presence of certain types of cancer," Michael McCulloch, from the Pine Street Foundation in San Anselmo, California, told Reuters Health, "but until now, nobody had conducted a thorough study such as this." Researchers have observed that cancer cells release molecules different from those of their healthy counterparts, and that might be perceived by smell by the highly sensitive dog's nose.

For the study, five dogs, three Labrador retrievers and two Portuguese water dogs, were trained by a professional instructor to respond differently to exhaled breath samples of healthy and cancer patients. "The dogs learned to sit or lie down in front of cancer patient samples and to ignore control samples through the method of food reward," McCulloch explained.

After an extensive, though relatively short, period of training, the McCulloch and his colleagues tested the animals' ability to distinguish cancer patients from controls. The animals were given breath samples from 55 patients with lung cancer, 31 with breast cancer and 83 healthy controls who were not included in the original training sessions. Neither the dogs nor the observers knew the identity of the samples.

McCulloch's group found that the dogs were able to correctly distinguish the breath samples of cancer patients from the those of the control subjects in about 90 percent of the cases, even after the researchers adjusted the results to take into account whether the lung cancer patients were smokers The dogs were also capable of detecting early-stage lung and breast cancers.

"These results show that there is hope for early detection," McCulloch said. The researchers are planning to conduct further studies on the breath composition of cancer patients to possibly design an electronic device that can do the dogs' job. "I hope people will be interested in pursuing this research," McCulloch added. "It shows that there is definitely something out there."

SOURCE: Integrative Cancer Therapies, March 2006.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lymphedema study

This article appeared in the John Hopkins newsletter in December of 2005. It illustrates the amount of assumption about what is and is not acceptable when dealing with breast cancer and the effects after treatment. There is some interesting preliminary evidence that strength training during and after breast cancer treatment is beneficial mentally, spiritually and physically. If you know someone with lymphedema, please advise them of this new research!

Can Bench Pressing Reduce or Prevent Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Survivors?

In a novel research study being launched at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor in Epidemiology, will help to determine the extent to which a slowly progressive program of strength-training exercises is safe for breast cancer survivors with and without symptoms of lymphedema.

Lymphedema, which is characterized by a painful swelling of an affected arm and resulting loss of arm function, is one of the most common and feared side effects of breast-cancer treatments that involve lymph-node removal and/or radiation therapy.

Actions of the lymph system include regulating the balance of fluids in the limbs and fighting infections. When lymph nodes in the armpit are removed or damaged, patients can no longer appropriately regulate the fluid in their affected arm – which leads to swelling that can range from mild to extensive (bordering on elephantitis) and quite disfiguring.

"Statistically, this is a public health problem," says Schmitz. "It affects up to one-half of the nearly two million breast-cancer survivors alive in the U.S. today – which means that there may be as many as one million women suffer from some form of lymphedema." "Further, the psychological effects are enormous," adds Schmitz. "Indeed, many women have reported that they would rather have another mastectomy than lymphedema – because it's a painful, constant, and debilitating reminder of their breast cancer."

Current clinical guidelines advise lymphedema sufferers to not participate in any vigorous upper-body exercise; and, in particular, to not lift objects that weigh more than five to 15 pounds. "A gallon of milk weighs eight pounds," notes Schmitz, "so, basically, you're telling women, 'Don't carry your own groceries … don't pick-up your own grandchildren … don't live your own lives!' And the guidelines are based on air … on nothing. There's no scientific evidence to suggest that they're correct."

Strength training, believes Schmitz (an exercise physiologist), is an intriguing intervention for breast-cancer survivors as there is evidence that exercise improves health parameters and quality of life. Based on data from her own previous study (as well as other reports in the medical literature), a program of slowly-progressive weight-lifting exercises permits women to gradually increase the physical capacity of the damaged arm in a controlled setting, making it less likely that the occasional activities of daily living that require strenuous upper-body work – such as shoveling snow or carrying children – would over-stress the injured lymphatic system.

Schmitz's current randomized clinical-trial will seek to recruit 288 breast-cancer survivors (144 with lymphedema; 144 without). For those with lymphedema, the study is designed to determine whether or not upper-body strength training is safe – Schmitz believes it is.