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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Women's Health Channel
Reported February 4, 2014

Woman’s Best Friend: Sniffing out Ovarian Cancer

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the U.S. The silent killer is often diagnosed too late and will kill 14,000 this year. That’s where specially trained dogs could come in.

Ohlin, McBaine, and Tsunami are all dogs with different personalities, but they share one special purpose.

“Lifesavers, these dogs are saving lives,” Cindy Otto, DVM, PhD, Director, Penn Vet Working Dog Center, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Otto is leading research at Penn Vet Working Dog Center, teaching canines to sniff out ovarian cancer—a disease with no standard early detection test.

“It is a silent killer and so many women are not diagnosed until it’s too late,” Dr. Otto said.

Each cancer has its own odor. Dr. Otto says a dog’s keen sense of smell could detect it.

“They are about 1,000 to 10,000 times better than we are at detecting any kind of odors,” Dr. Otto explained.

So far the dogs have been introduced to the smell of the cancer tissue. Researchers place three bowls on the ground and one of bowls has the odor.  The dogs are trained to sit when they find it.

The ultimate goal is to use the dogs to help build a machine to detect the odor or biomarker, and create a blood test to catch ovarian cancer early.

“They are training the machines so that the machines can then do millions of samples at a much lower cost, so that we don’t have any woman who can’t get this kind of screening, which is so important,” Dr. Otto said.

The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 44 percent. When found early it jumps to 92 percent.

All of the dogs at the center come from strong family lines with histories of hunting ability or detection work. These breeds have long noses and are used in the research because they have the largest surface area of olfactory receptors.

The program at Penn Vet Working Dog Center is supported by donation.

For additional research on this article, click here.

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If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Emily Farr at


Cindy Otto, DVM, PhD
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

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