Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness: Dogs Sniffing Cancer


The pet world lost one of the best journalists its ever had last February with the passing of Darlene Arden due to ovarian cancer.

with Darlene on her radio show

Darlene was a sister in sound, hosting her own pet radio show for several years; authored many well-researched and award-winning books about pets – including the seminal book about toy breeds – and was a certified animal behavior consultant. Most of all Darlene was a friend.

Before her death, Darlene set up the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness (OCSA) Darlene Arden Veterinary Outreach Program Fund.

Contributions will further transformational research as dogs are now being successfully trained at Penn Vet Working Dog Center to sniff for this cancer, and on the early stages of the disease! This is huge, and far, far better than current diagnostics.

It’s no secret, dogs can identify several cancers, including prostrate, breast, colon, lung, thyroid, melanoma and now ovarian.

But so what?

Dogs are trained to detect ovarian cancer

It’s not likely that dogs will be “working” side by side in clinics with general practitioners and oncologists, as appealing as that idea is. Maybe one day our own health insurance will cover cancer-sniffing dogs, but it’s not happening anytime soon.

So, then why does it really matter that dogs can sniff cancer? What’s the practical application?

Dr. Cynthia Otto

Dr. Cynthia Otto is executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, and Associate Professor of Critical Care at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Otto’s group is working in collaboration with Monell Chemical Senses Center, Penn Physics and Penn Medicine and is close to identifying which chemicals dogs are specifically targeting when they sniff ovarian cancer. The outcome is pretty astounding, as Otto says that as a result of the work, scientists may develop a blood test for early detection of ovarian cancer.

And if the recipe can be found for this – likely the recipe can be found for other types of cancers as well.

Often by the time ovarian cancer is diagnosed, aggressive treatment is required, and too often without success. ‘If a simple blood test could offer a very early diagnosis, many lives would be saved,” says Vallie Szymanski, OSCA co-founder and executive director.

One of several collaborators in this project is an oncological surgeon who provides blood samples. The dogs sniff the blood from patients with ovarian cancer, and are clicked (using a clicker that dog trainers use), and they are promptly rewarded with a treat and praise. Eventually, a normal blood sample is added to the line-up, but the dogs are only clicked and rewarded when identifying the cancer sample. Soon, upping the ante, a blood sample is added from a woman with an ovarian-related medical problem, such a cyst (benign ovarian disease), but not cancer. Dogs quickly learn to distinguish the difference between this “false alarm” and real cancer.

Otto says that dogs take about two weeks to begin to catch on, and after a few months of training they get it right at least 85 to 90 percent of the time

Otto says if indeed the funding comes through, and her progress continues as it is today –  a blood test for ovarian cancer will happen. And even better, once the recipe is set for one cancer, it’ll be reasonably easy duplicate the cookie cutter for other types of cancers as well.

To help raise money, you can give directly to the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness (OCSA) Darlene Arden Veterinary Outreach Program Fund, or partake in Arden’s memory partake in the annual (OCSA) 5k run/walk September 9 (September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month), held at Leroy Oaks Forest Preserve, Shelter #1 at 37W700 Dean Street, St. Charles, IL. Registration is 8:30 and the run begins at 10 a.m. A special ceremony will include Arden’s longtime friend, Sue Janson. Learn more HERE about the run/walk.

Shortly before she passed, Darlene told me, “A dog’s nose is God’s greatest miracle. It’s no coincidence that dog is God spelled backwards. Eventually, researchers on the human side may find a drug or treatment for ovarian cancer. Too many women can’t wait for that happen slow as molasses. Veterinary funded studies get things done!”