An Anchorage study is trying to prove that dogs can be trained to sniff out breast cancer and that their noses may be as accurate as a mammogram.

Dr. Donna Chester the a local OB-GYN sponsoring the study. Chester said the idea is not to replace mammograms but to offer some women a screening alternative to finding cancer early on.

"What we are trying to do is bridge the gap in medicine," she said. "There are women who will go and get their mammograms, and there's a whole other subset that either won't, can't or don't get their mammograms."

Chester said dogs, who smell only breath samples from patients, and not their bodies, could offer a less invasive way to detect disease and possibly a less expensive one, provided their noses are accurate at detecting the volatile organic compounds that cancer patients have in their breath.

"We are looking for at least a 95 to 96 percent certainty that the dogs are detecting cancer," said Chester.

In order to prove that, the study needs breath samples from women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer or another non-cancerous breast condition. Chester said they need more than 100 samples which, so far, has been the hardest part. She said the samples must be taken before any treatment occurs, so the window to collect them is small.

The first phase of the study involves collecting samples and training the dogs to detect cancer's signature smell while ignoring other background smells. The second phase will be a double-blind study, in which researchers won't know which samples are cancerous and which are not.

People interested in learning more about the study, including how to participate, can call lead investigator Dolly Lefever at 907-223-9927. More information is available at www.alaskabio-canines.com.

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