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'Doggie Doctors' Trained To Detect Ovarian Cancer In Women

LOS ANGELES (CBS2) — A Southern California woman trains dogs to detect cancer in women.

Dina Zaphiris, a pet owner and dog trainer from West Hills, works with dogs four hours a day, four days a week to get them to sniff out ovarian cancer through a woman's breath.

How does it work?

Breath samples from the women diagnosed with cancer are trapped in small tubes.

Those tubes are then mixed in with healthy samples for the dogs to find in a long tray.

Zaphiris said the system is similar to the way bomb or drug detection dogs are trained.

"(It's) only rewarding them (when they find) the cancer. And over time, they will ignore everything healthy and only want to go toward the cancer breath," she said.

Zaphiris said each dog has its own alert system when they find the cancer samples.

"We have one that sits when it finds cancer, one that lies down, and one that paws," she said.

Michael McCulloch, Zaphiris' research partner and the director of the Pine Street Foundation, said analyzing cancer through body odor has been documented for centuries.

"Experienced clinicians will tell you people who are really sick…their body odor changes, their breath odor changes," he said. "It was a no-brainer that if a clinician can detect these odors, that a dog can be trained to detect them, as well."

McCulloch has published medical research on dogs detecting cancer since 2003.

He said the ultimate goal is to figure out a non-invasive way to detect ovarian cancer before symptoms or a blood test might detect it.

Zaphiris said, "I've worked with McCulloch in 2003 and the dogs were 98 to 99 percent accurate (in finding the cancer samples)."

The dog trainer said her mom, who passed away from breast cancer in 2010, was the inspiration of the study.

"I'm on a crusade for my mom and for myself. And for all women. If we can catch it early, we're going to save lives," Zaphiris said.

Zaphiris and McCulloch's trial is the first and only federally funded project in the country that examines exhale breath as a source of diagnostics on ovarian cancer.

For more information, visit Dogs Detect Cancer.

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