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An Unusual Way of Detecting This Early Stage Cancer Without a Machine

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Research shows that some dogs have an uncanny ability to detect impending seizures, cancer, and even when people will die. Some examples of these extraordinary animals can be seen in the two videos above.

In one new study, a Labrador retriever has been trained to detect colon cancer nearly as accurately as a colonoscopy. The dog was given breath and stool samples of more than 300 patients and gave back an accurate diagnosis 98 percent of the time.

In fact, the dog was particularly good at spotting early stage cancer, and could tell polyps from malignancies -- something colonoscopies cannot do.

Time Magazine reports:

"Although there's not much hope for the routine use of scent dogs in cancer screening -- they're too expensive, for one thing -- the current findings suggest that other noninvasive screening measures could be developed to pick up the same scent."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Amazing but true, the pooch in question is able to detect colon cancer with 98 percent accuracy. That’s pretty impressive! Even better, the trained Labrador proved to be particularly good at sniffing out early-stage cancer, which is the goal of any diagnostic method.

Unfortunately, you won’t be greeted by a dog when you go in for cancer screening anytime soon. But it’s interesting to note that cancer appears to have a definitive smell, and researchers hope these findings will be able to help them design new ways to detect cancer by incorporating some form of scent-detecting method.

Colon Cancer is Deadly, But Slow

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. According to the latest data from the CDC, more than 142,600 Americans were diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007, and more than 53,200 died from it.

Fortunately, it is also one of the few cancers that can be successfully treated if precancerous growths are found and removed early enough. And unlike many other cancers, colon cancer grows relatively slowly, giving you ample time to catch it before it progresses to a terminal stage.

I also believe colon cancer is virtually completely preventable with certain lifestyle changes, which I will review in a moment.

Colonoscopy—A Great Detection Tool

A colonoscopy involves inserting a lighted tube with a small camera into your bowel to visually detect colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps.

I am a strong advocate of regular screening for colon cancer. It’s a simple, relatively painless procedure that does not involve radiation, and it can save your life if you find and remove a polyp before it has advanced to a certain stage.

Unlike breast cancer, there is a VERY long development stage for colon cancer.

Once a precancerous polyp is identified, there may be a 10 year lag phase before it progresses to colon cancer. That is why the screen is only recommended at five year intervals as even if it is missed on the initial screen (remember none of these screens are perfect) then it can be detected on the subsequent screen.

I do however recommend getting your colonoscopy done by a specialist.

According to one 2007 study, cancers are more likely to be missed when the colonoscopy is performed in an office setting, and also more likely to go unnoticed when the procedure is done by an internist or family physician rather than a specialist.

  • An office procedure, as opposed to one conducted in a hospital setting, actually tripled the risk of missed colorectal cancers in men and doubled the risk in women.
  • Family physicians and internists were 77 percent more likely than gastroenterologists to miss the cancer in men and 85 percent more likely to miss it in women.

Since flat or depressed lesions are more likely to be cancerous than raised polyps (which are easier to spot), the competency and careful attention of your physician is very important.

As for treating colon cancer with cytotoxic chemotherapy, please know these toxic cocktails are virtually useless in this case, with only two percent of patients surviving the 5-year mark according to a study published in the journal Clinical Oncology in 2004.

Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer

As with many cancers, you may not experience any symptoms in the early stages of the disease, which is why getting regular colonoscopies is a good idea, especially after the age of 50.

When symptoms finally do appear, they'll likely vary, depending on the tumor’s size and location in your large intestine.

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:

A change in your bowel habits for more than a couple of weeks, including diarrhea, constipation (where you have a bowel movement less than three times a week) or thin stools Abdominal pain with a bowel movement
Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool A sensation that you “still need to go” that can’t be relieved
Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain Weakness or fatigue (due to iron deficiency anemia)
Abdominal pain with a bowel movement Unexplained weight loss

If you have any, or several of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to visit a specialist and get a colonoscopy regardless of your age, to rule out the possibility of cancer.

Blood in your stool may be a sign of cancer, but it can also indicate other, more common conditions. Bright red blood that you may notice on bathroom tissue is more commonly due to hemorrhoids, for example.

The Most Important Cancer Prevention Strategy

As I mentioned earlier, I firmly believe that colon cancer (as well as most other cancers) can easily be prevented with simple lifestyle changes. There are several dietary factors that appear to play a protective role, and one of the most important and simplest ones is to optimize your vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D, a steroid hormone that influences virtually every cell in your body, is easily one of nature’s most potent cancer fighters. Over 800 studies in this area overwhelmingly support this notion.

Not only has research found it to be protective against cancer, it’s even been found to kill human cancer cells. For example, vitamin D has been shown to kill breast cancer cells as effectively as the toxic cancer drug Tamoxifen, without any of the detrimental side effects and at a fraction of the cost.

According to one complex computer prediction model, intake of vitamin D3 and calcium could potentially prevent 49,000 new cases of colon cancer annually in the United States and Canada alone.

Vitamin D’s protective effect against cancer works in multiple ways, including:

  • Increasing the self-destruction of mutated cells (which, if allowed to replicate, could lead to cancer)
  • Reducing the spread and reproduction of cancer cells
  • Causing cells to become differentiated (cancer cells often lack differentiation)
  • Reducing the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, which is a step in the transition of dormant tumors turning cancerous

Dr. Garland is widely regarded as the leading epidemiologist on vitamin D and its relation to health. He led a study on vitamin D for cancer prevention in which he proposed a new model of cancer development -- dubbed DINOMIT-- that is centered on a loss of cancer cells' ability to stick together.

How to Optimize Your Vitamin D

The ideal way to optimize your vitamin D levels is by getting plenty of appropriate sunshine exposure year-round. If you struggle with getting enough sun exposure during certain times of the year, you can use a safe tanning bed (one that has the harmful emissions shielded).

This way your body can still produce vitamin D naturally.

A third option is taking a vitamin D3 supplement. Do NOT use the synthetic and highly inferior vitamin D2, however.

Based on the most recent research, the current recommendation for dosage is 35 IU’s of vitamin D per pound of body weight. However, it’s important to realize that vitamin D requirements are highly individual, as your vitamin D status is dependent on numerous factors, such as the color of your skin, your location, and how much sunshine you’re exposed to on a regular basis.

So, although these recommendations may put you closer to the ballpark of what most people likely need, it is simply impossible to make a blanket recommendation that will cover everyone’s needs.

The only way to determine the correct dose is to get your blood tested since there are so many variables that influence your vitamin D status. For more detailed information and guidelines for appropriate sun exposure, dosages, vitamin D testing, and clinically effective ranges, please see my article Test Values and Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency.

Other Natural Cancer-Prevention Strategies

While some of these preventive measures are identical for all cancers, several are particularly beneficial against colon cancer: