By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In addition to being “man’s best friend,” some dogs have other important jobs as they’re also sniffing out a growing number of cancers.

Scientists have shown that some dogs have hundreds of millions of scent receptors, and they’re finding new ways to potentially detect different kinds of cancer.

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The science of smell has these research dogs using their noses to potentially help humans detect things like blood sugar levels in diabetics, seizures, anxiety, and even cancer.

“People have never thought that dogs can smell molecules that relate to cancer, but recent studies show that they can,” said Dr. Mangilal Argarwal, of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

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Previous research, some here in Philadelphia at Penn, has shown dogs can detect ovarian cancer through smell.

In a new study, canines have been able to smell certain odors in the urine of prostate cancer patients.

That has researchers working to replicate the process and develop an early screening method.

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“So our big question is to see what dogs are smelling,” said Argarwal.

The research team has identified some molecules linked to the smell, so now they’ll be using the dogs to help test their theory.

They eventually hope to build a sensor that works like a pregnancy test for prostate cancer.

“You can do the test in a clinic, you could do the test at home, same-day results and same-day discussion with your doctor,” said Argarwal.

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Doctors say that would be an important advancement because current tests to screen for prostate cancer can be inaccurate and lead to unnecessary and painful biopsies.

“If we can find that smell in prostate cancer from urine, it can really change the way we diagnose prostate cancer right now,” said Argarwal.

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Researchers say they’re years away from developing the prostate cancer sensor and getting it approved, but they’re hopefully their work with dogs will usher in a whole new way to finding cancer faster, which will save lives.

Stephanie Stahl