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02/28/2006
Diagnostic Dogs

A most interesting scientific article, " Diagnostic Accuracy of Canine Scent Detection in Early and Late Stage Lung and Breast Cancers," by McCulloch, Michael et al. appears in Vol. 5, No. 1 of Integrative Cancer studies. The gist is that you can train any group of dogs to distinguish the afflicted from the healthy for those two diseases with 99% accuracy. Alternate hypotheses relating to foods eaten, age, smoking, previous sicknesses are tested and ruled out. A typical two by two table is

       healthy          sick
no       708             10
yes        4            664

Thus, a "yes" increases the odds by a factor of 141 to 1 that you have the disease.

Several thoughts emerge:

  1. It would be good for investors to find a dog that could ferret out the smell of a good stock as well as it can the diseased.
  2. What an incredible number of lives would be saved if tests based on breath, scent, urine and blood were used to diagnose rather than the invasive and immensely insensitive physical tests that are now given.
  3. What would be the net increase in human longevity if people still paid for their own health and doctors and others were free to purvey their panaceas the same way they hawk computers and communication devices?

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