The Scientist: A Nose by Any Other Name: Tracking the Scent of Tumor Metabolic Waste

A 1989 short letter in The Lancet describes a woman who became aware of a suspicious mole on her leg after her dog began sniffing at it daily and eventually tried to bite it off.1 The dog likely saved her life, as doctors then identified and treated her malignant melanoma early. This event also prompted scientists to hypothesize that tumors emit a specific odor. In the years that followed, researchers explored the use of sniffer dogs to detect cancer. Despite some success, using canines as a diagnostic tool remains limited—even well-trained dogs with exquisite noses cannot be standardized or scaled to meet clinical needs. They can, however, inform scientists’ development of electronic noses that sniff out cancer.

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