Sniffing out breast cancer – thanks to Walk the Walk!

I get excited about all the grants that we give but every now and then I see or hear something that completely blows me away, and this was one of those occasions.

We are delighted to announce that we have recently made a grant to the Medical Detection Dogs charity, to help fund an important pilot study that could help detect breast cancer in its very early stages. The study involves taking a breath sample from women at the time they visit the hospital for their mammograms. The breath samples are then used for research and for training dogs to sniff out breast cancer.

Read what Nina has to say all about it below:

“I get excited about all the grants that we give but every now and then I see or hear something that completely blows me away, and this was one of those occasions. I’d been invited to Clarence House by an organisation called Medical Detection Dogs to watch a demonstration of their dogs in action.

If you’ve never heard about it before, the idea that dogs can sniff out cancer sounds more like an episode of Lassie than scientific fact. But it’s true – and there’s a significant body of medical evidence to support it. Still it’s hard to accept until you see it right before your eyes – which is where the demonstration came in.

I watched in amazement as Labradors Lucy and Ulric worked their way through a carousel of different urine samples. If the sample contained cancer cells, they sat beside it. If it didn’t they returned to their handler and sat beside them – they were right every single time. Cancer cells release small amounts of volatile substances which make their way into our breath, and cancer detection dogs are trained to home in on these.

We already know from research that dogs can detect prostate cancer – what we don’t know is whether prostate and breast cancer smell different. This was something that I knew Walk the Walk would want to help in, so when Medical Detection Dogs were planning a major study into breast cancer detection and needed help with funding the study, we jumped at it.

The research involves women donating breath samples when they attend their routine breast check. These will be sent to the charity’s training centre where several dogs will sniff each sample. We are hoping that the dogs will be able to detect cancer in its very early stages which could make a real, life-saving difference. Sadly the plan isn’t to put a cute puppy in every GP’s surgery (although there are probably plenty of psychological benefits to be had from that!) but the findings could help scientists develop a quicker, cheaper and less invasive screening system. The charity just needed some help to get the study off the ground.

Every year over 30,000 wonderful women and men walk to raise money for Walk the Walk(not to mention all those hikers and skiers!) so we take great care when deciding how to spend all that hard-raised money. We look at each case very carefully, and if necessary, consult experts in the field. This was an easy decision, and I am delighted that Walk the Walk have chosen to support Medical Detection Dogs – providing 10,000 breath capsules so the samples can be sent in quickly and easily.

 It’s great to be able to help, and we wouldn’t be able to do any of these things if it wasn’t for our amazing Walkers who get out there in all weathers, training for The MoonWalks in LondonEdinburghIceland or New York. So my message to all of them is that every step you take, brings us one step closer to beating this thing. So thank you, and please keep on Walking!”

The “Canine Olfaction Detection of Human Breast Cancer by Breath Samples Study” is being carried out by Medical Detection Dogs in conjunction with the Bucks NHS Trust at High Wycombe. The particular focus of the study will be on the reliability of the dogs in the detection of early grade and stage tumours.

For centuries it has been known that dogs have an acute sense of smell and doctors have been aware that diseases have characteristic odours which dogs may be able to detect. Cancer cells release small amounts of volatile substances and cancer detection dogs are being trained to detect these. The hope is that the study will enable scientists to develop an early cancer screening system.

The Walk the Walk grant will allow all the breath sample kits to be purchased for the project, which has the potential to revolutionise the screening of breast cancer in the future and save thousands of lives.

Dr Claire Guest, Co – Founder and Chief Executive of Medical Detection Dogs said: “Medical Detection Dogs are incredibly grateful to Walk the Walk, and all the individual walkers who have taken part, for their truly invaluable support which will assist us in the completion of this unique and exciting study, using specialist trained dogs to investigate whether breast cancer has a unique odour in human breath. The results of this study will provide vital information for breast cancer diagnoses in the future. “




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