Dogs And The Early Detection of Cancer

The first time I heard about dogs being able to “sniff” cancer in a sample of urine was many months ago.  I have to admit that at the time I was very, very skeptical.


The research concept that was reported in an article in the BMJ (also known to many of us as the British Medical Journal) in September of 2004 was fairly straightforward: dogs have a very well developed sense of smell, and maybe they can smell something in a body fluid that may be able to detect whether or not the patient had cancer. 


As the researchers reported, up to that time there had been several anecdotal reports of pet dogs alerting their owners to the fact that something was amiss, and that something turned out to be cancer.


What the researchers found was that in a group six ordinary dogs they were able to train the dogs to detect something through their sense of smell in the urine of cancer patients that was different from the urine of people without bladder cancer. 


The test wasn’t perfect.   The dogs were right 41% of the time, compared to 14% which would have been the expectation if the dogs were just guessing.  Despite that caution, the story received a lot of media attention for the obvious reasons: it was offbeat, and it suggested a possible simple solution to a complex problem.  Even 60 Minutes weighed in.


I didn’t hear anything more about this concept until this week, when a paper published in a journal called Integrative Cancer Therapies and made available online generated a considerable amount of media interest, probably for the same reasons noted above.


In this more recent article, the researchers reported that they were able to train several local dogs to determine which breath samples came from patients with lung or breast cancer.  Not only could the dogs pick out the right sample almost all of the time, but they could also detect samples from folks with even early stage disease.


Before everyone goes out and starts creating cancer screening programs based on the unique ability of dogs to differentiate body fluid or breath samples from cancer patients compared to people without cancer, there a couple of points that have to be made.


First, let’s talk about what may be going on here.


Our bodies in fact are, among other things, pretty neat protein and chemical factories when you stop and think about it.  We are made up of cells that create proteins, and create waste products and other compounds that are part of our daily existence.


For many years, there has been considerable interest in identifying chemicals, proteins and other markers in our body chemistry that may give a clue to the presence of cancer.  The goal, ultimately, is to be able to measure something through a lab test that is produced specifically by a cancer, and that would allow us to become aware a cancer is present before it can be felt by examination, or found by an x-ray or other imaging test.  Then, maybe the cancer could be treated before it ever becomes a problem.


Research into these types of detection possibilities has accelerated over the past several years, as our knowledge of cancer and the quality of our research tools have improved rapidly.  A recent editorial in the Journal of Clinical Oncology nicely summarizes these efforts and some of the problems that researchers have faced, including some of the false starts that resulted in considerable excitement but did not pan out.


As part of our “body factory,” there are going to be products produced that are “volatile” in nature.  That means they are excreted through the body in a gaseous form and may be associated with certain odors.


For example, when a person has poorly controlled diabetes, they produce a substance called ketones which can be measured in their blood and urine.  However, the body also excretes this material through the lungs, much like it gets rid of carbon dioxide while it takes in oxygen.  Those ketones smell, and that is what gives the characteristic odor associated with diabetic coma.  We doctors usually are able to smell the ketones when they get to a high enough level in a patient’s breath.


Similarly, as a physician, you can also smell alcohol on the breath of a chronic abuser.  That is, in fact, one of the ways the body gets rid of the breakdown products of alcohol consumption.  Most of us are very familiar with the breath test that police use to determine the alcohol level in a person’s body.


There are many other examples, but I suspect you get the idea: the body creates chemicals that may be produced in small amounts, but in fact in larger concentrations may create a smell that is characteristic of the process.  We humans can smell these things when they are present in large amounts, but we can’t smell these chemicals when the concentration in the air is very small.  Dogs, with a very highly developed sense of smell, may be able to detect these odors.


If we could prove the association between cancer and the production of some of these chemical products in small amounts that could be smelled by a dog, we could then concentrate on trying to find that compound.  If we could do that, then the compound could be measured.  We would, in essence, use the skills of the dogs to guide us to find the compound.    


It is possible that the dog could be better than our fancy machines.  We would be able to short circuit the process of sifting through thousands and thousands of possible candidates to zero in on the one that counts.  The compound, whatever it is, may be in the body in amounts too small to actually isolate it without getting a clue from our canine friends.


That is really where, in my opinion, the action is for this particular approach.

I do not envision long lines of lab specimens lined up, with a trained pooch walking down the aisle and sitting down in front of a urine sample or a breath sample when the dog smells the smell. 


The experiments themselves and how they were constructed do not point in that direction (pardon the pun regarding pointing).  What the researchers did was demonstrate that the dogs were able to pick the cancer sample out from four normal specimens in one test, and from six samples in the other test.  The dogs did not have to go down a row of 100 samples, and pick out all the cancer samples from all the normal samples, nor did they go through thousands of samples of healthy patients and find those who had a lung, breast or bladder cancer.


So what have we ended up with after all of this excitement?


We know that your neighborhood pooch can be trained to pick out a cancer sample from samples which came from a group of folks not known to have cancer.  We don’t know what it is they smell, and we don’t know how much of whatever compound they smell is present in the body.


We don’t know if this is a real breakthrough. We do know that it has not been demonstrated yet—based on these studies—that this is going to have significant impact on the early detection of cancer.


But you are hearing from someone who was a skeptic that there may be something here.  Stranger things have happened in science, and in the treatment of cancer.  Far be it from me to be an absolute doubter about this possibility. 


Skeptical?  Yes, but that’s my nature about a lot of new discoveries and claims.  An absolute skeptic?  No longer.  My mind is open, and I look forward to continued research reports with interest.


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J. Leonard Lichtenfeld's Biography

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP: Dr. Lichtenfeld currently serves as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society in the Society's Office of the Chief Medical Officer located at the Society's Corporate Center in Atlanta. Dr. Lichtenfeld joined the Society in 2001 as a medical editor, and in 2002 assumed responsibility for managing the Society's then newly created Cancer Control Science Department which included the prevention and early detection of cancer, emerging cancer science and trends, health equity, quality of life for cancer patients, the science of cancer communications and the role of nutrition and physical activity in cancer prevention and cancer care.  In 2014, Dr. Lichtenfeld assumed his current role in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer where he provides extensive support to a number of Society colleagues and activities. As a result of his over four decades of experience in cancer care, Dr. Lichtenfeld is frequently quoted in the print and electronic media regarding the Society's positions on a number of important issues related to cancer. He has testified regularly in legislative and regulatory hearings, and participated on numerous panels regarding cancer care, research, advocacy and related topics. He has served on a number of advisory committees and boards for organizations that collaborate with the Society to reduce the burden of cancer nationally and worldwide. He is well known for his blog ( which first appeared in 2005 and which continues to address many topics related to cancer research and treatment. A board certified medical oncologist and internist who was a practicing physician for over 19 years, Dr. Lichtenfeld has long been engaged in health care policy on a local, state, and national level.  He is active in several state and national medical organizations and has a long-standing interest in professional legislative and regulatory issues related to health care including physician payment, medical care delivery systems, and health information technology. Dr. Lichtenfeld is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in Philadelphia.  His postgraduate training was at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute in Baltimore. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society.  Dr. Lichtenfeld has received several awards in recognition of his efforts on behalf of his colleagues and his professional activities.  He has been designated a Master of the American College of Physicians in acknowledgement of his contributions to internal medicine.  Dr. Lichtenfeld is married, and resides in Atlanta and Thomasville, Georgia.

84 thoughts on “Dogs And The Early Detection of Cancer

  1. Have you ever heard of any humans being able to smell cancer on people before they have been diagnosed?

    In the past 12 years or so I have smelled a very sickening strong (to me) rotten odor on 4 people, 3 of whom were related to me. All but one have since died from various cancers. The 4th one was just told yesterday he has a mass in his right lung the size of a mans wallet and today he will find out if he also has prostate cancer. At the risk of him thinking I was a nut I told him about the smell I smelled on him almost 2 years ago and he dismissed it. I just wonder if you have ever heard of anyone being able to smell cancer in people before they even know they have it, like over a year or more before they are diagnosed? It is very unnerving to me to have this happen for the 4th time. Of the 4 people, 2 of them were found to have lung cancer, one had colon cancer and one had the worst most aggressive type of leukemia. All of them had that really sickening sweet rotten kind of smell to me. Any comment you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

  2. This seems like a place to use some research money. Some cancers are hard to detect, those would be the ones to start with, and the dogs could be trained using people known to have the disease. Seems like it would be research that could begin without millions of dollars, with a couple of oncologists who are personable and could enlist their patients in helping save lives.
    The woman above, Laura, should be thoroughly studied, she could be an amazing gift to the world.
    Two people I loved died in the last few years of pancreatic cancer within two years of a diagnosis of Diabetes. These are related but it’s too expensive to test every new Diabetic for pancreatic cancer. This smell could suggest further tests.

  3. I myself have noticed the an ability to detect cancer in people. I became aware of it when I was working as an assistant funeral director. At first I associated it with the smell of death, it was a unique smell which I had noticed many times, even immediately after death (before any decomposition). I mentioned it to my boss who explained it as the smell only given off by cancer sufferers. He could smell it himself, and often surprised the medical staff and family of a deceased person by asking if the cause of death was cancer. I myself am not sure whether the smell is caused by the cancer itself or the medication received by cancer patients. But I can attest to the existance of a unique smell associated with cancer.

  4. I am a retired pharmacist. I realised when practising (for over 40 years) that I could smell cancer on patients. Now I have locally advanced prostate cancer (Gleason 10,Stage 3 N+) I can smell (and taste!) it on myself. When I finally told my wife of this, she admitted that she had already noticed this smell on my breath, but hadn’t liked to mention it.

  5. My husband has poorly managed type 2 diabetes, and when his sugar gets high he smells a woody smell all around him . This is odd because he has lost his senses of smell and taste, and no one else smells it. He has just had negative tests for prostate, liver, and gall bladder. Any ideas?

  6. I’m glad I found this site! This is the first time I’ve heard of others’ ability to smell cancer! I too, believe I have that ability and afraid to mention it to anyone for fear they would think I’m nuts.

    I worked in a hospice many years ago for approximately three years. I could easily tell when a patient was dying of cancer . . . a very pungent, old, and rotting odor. Nobody else seemed to smell this except me.

    My father-in-law died almost three years ago of cancer. Before he was diagnosed to be terminal, I told my husband that I can smell it on him immediately, and that I would bet 100% that he is terminal. Lo and behold, the doctors finally admitted it was terminal. I mean, the smell was so bad that it would linger on me for days.

    Now, I am researching the Internet. I haven’t said anything to him, but I smell this odor on my husband. It is to the point where I can’t even be in a car with him because of the overwhelming odor. He is having some health issues, and certain doctors ignoring certain issues. I just can’t explain this. The odor is worsening.

    Now that I know I’m not crazy, I believe I will be going to the doctor’s office on his next visit to push a full CBC, prostate, and colon screening. He’s only 45!!

  7. I noticed this smell on my wife’s body/breath for most of last year. She suddenly developed diabetes in Aug. 06 (very high ketones) she soon afterwards developed abdominal pain.. and after 2 Dr’s told me nothing was seriously wrong with her… I insisted that there was something serious going on ..she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer on Dec. 22, 2006. They gave her chemo for the past few months, she got somewhat better (although still terminal) .. Last week I noticed the smell had returned, and we found that her tumor markers had increased, and she soon started having pain again. the smell has been absent since March, but it is now full-blast again… I told my family today that I know things are about to happen, based mainly on the odor that I detect. I am a combat veteran, and I have smelled this on many dead bodies, especially in the first moments after they were hit. I cannot sleep in the same room with her..this odor drives me crazy, and provokesm nightmares..

  8. Manfred:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your wife’s terminal illness.
    Sounds like you have the same ability others have.

    I hope things get better. I’m sure it is hard on everyone.

  9. I was sincerely hoping not to find a site like this. I just returned home after spending several days with my 87 year old mother. My sister (main caregiver) told me that Mom’s nurse (more like an aid who comes in 3 days a week) shared with her that she thinks our Mom has cancer. She said she has worked for years in nursing homes, etc. and can smell cancer. I had never heard of a person being able to smell cancer, now I stand corrected. I am still hoping that the smell is associated with her thyroid and not cancer.

  10. My husband underwent a TURP almost 3 months ago and ever since he has had a terrible body odor, like old yeast, fungus, in old dirty clothes. It gets stronger by the day. When I asked his urologist if there could possibly be a correlation between the prostrate surgery and the body odor, he blew up, belittled me for such a “stupid” question.

    Nevertheless, I have made an appointment with our general practioner for testing. I hope I am not smelling cancer but I have smelled it before on friends and family who were terminal. (And as I grow older my sense of smell grows keener and keener!!)

  11. My husband underwent a TURP almost 3 months ago and ever since he has had a terrible body odor, like old yeast, fungus, in old dirty clothes. It gets stronger by the day. When I asked his urologist if there could possibly be a correlation between the prostrate surgery and the body odor, he blew up, belittled me for such a “stupid” question.

    Nevertheless, I have made an appointment with our general practioner for testing. I hope I am not smelling cancer but I have smelled it before on friends and family who were terminal. (And as I grow older my sense of smell grows keener and keener!!)

  12. I have been feeling like I am omitting an oder. It is strong to me but I do not know what it smells like. I shower and scrub and still feel like I smell. I asked my son to smell me and he said I smell like soap, my boyfriend keeps telling me that I don’t stink, I don’t smell, but I do, I smell and I cannot take it because I feel crazy like I am imagining this scent. I am glad that others smell things that others don’t think are there because I don’t feel like I am a nutbab anymore.

  13. I have been feeling like I am omitting an oder. It is strong to me but I do not know what it smells like. I shower and scrub and still feel like I smell. I asked my son to smell me and he said I smell like soap, my boyfriend keeps telling me that I don’t stink, I don’t smell, but I do, I smell and I cannot take it because I feel crazy like I am imagining this scent. I am glad that others smell things that others don’t think are there because I don’t feel like I am a nutbab anymore.

  14. Wow! I’m so glad I found this sight. I also smell cancer. I thought I was nuts! I have done this for a fe years now. I’ve mentioned this only to close family members and they have laughed and dismissed it. Most recently I noticed the smell on my father when I gave him a hug back in February 2007. He was dignosed with kidney cancer in the beginning of October. He thankfully had a fantastic Dr. who took care of things quickly. His right kidney was the size of a grapefruit and completly engulfed in cancer. They were able to remove and the cancer had not spread- he is now cancer free. I never told anyone when I noticed the smell on him in February. Maybe I should have because we nearly lost him. Though I don’t think they would have believed me anyway. This experience has been very confirming for me, as well as, finding this websight. Thank you to those who are willing to be open about this regardless of what others think. It is nice to find that none of us are crazy!

  15. My husband had heart surgery,in 2002, four bypasses, then within a month, had to have stomach surgery to stop the bleeding, and the removal of his gall bladder. He has always had uncontrolled diabetes, plus rheumatoid arthritis. his health has steadily declined over the last three years, now he’s very wobbly on his legs, uses oxygen at night. I smell an odor about him now, and he’s always been so particular about how his body smelled. I don’t know how to describe it, almost like rotten vegtables, sweet, annoying to say the least. I have not mentioned this to him, it would hurt him so much. I hope he doesn’t have cancer. He’s had so much to go through all ready.

  16. I just googled this suject because I smell it really bad on my grandma right now and no one else could smell it except me. She is dying of cancer.

  17. 253867 Wow, I’m so glad to share with others who have had similiar experiences. Years ago I worked in the hospital with respiratory patients. I could always smell a sickly, sweet in a gagging rotting way on their breath. I could smell it in clothes, their rooms, even when they left. It lingered, like a bad taste that I can still recall. Now to my sadness, a dear friend’s teenage son has just been diagnoised with lymphoma. I can smell a low pitched sweet smell, not pleasant, that makes me uncomfortable. I had forgotten about the cancer smell until his mother has commented on a new strange sickly smell in his hair & skin. My experience was that I couldn’t smell the cancer until it was very advanced.

  18. I used to sleep with my belly against my husband’s back and my head on his pillow, with my arm over him and play with the hair on his belly. Several months ago, I noticed a pungent odor that was so strong that I quit sleeping that way after 10 years. I wash the sheets and pillow cases a couple times a week, but it’s not enough. I now sleep as far over to the edge as I can get, with my back to him. I get up before him in the morning and open the bedroom door to air the room out and try not to gag. I miss the intimacy of the fall-asleep-cuddle. I have tried to get him to go to the doctor and he refuses. I used to have an Emergency Medical Technician’s license and remember my instructor saying there is a foul smell associated with some Cancers. I called him and talked to him about it. He suggested I get my husband into a doctor as soon as possible. My husband has a history of Cancer in his family. His mother died of Cancer in her 30s. His dad has skin cancer, and 3 of 4 grandparents died of Cancer. I think he is in denial. “If you don’t go to the doctor, you don’t have it.” I love him. I don’t want to lose him; but I can’t make him go for help. I hope to God I’m wrong about this. K

  19. I thought I would google something and found this.
    My husband had colon surgery a few years ago to remove cancer tissue, which was found to be harmless.
    For the past year his breath, mouth and more so nasal has this odd smell, at first I asked him if he had been smoking (which was a total out there question since he had never ever smoked in his life). The smell has been nagging at me, it is like a musty, dirty, scent with a hint of old cigarette stench.
    Then last night a little voice inside of me said I was smelling cancer. Not wanting to alarm my husband. I told him that smell makes me feel like he may be ill and I asked him if he had made that appointment for the Dr. Since he has been having symptoms that point to colon cancer. I know if he tells his Dr. I can smell it on him he will think I’m a nut! Now I know I am not. Thanks. I will keep on him to follow up.

  20. I’ve been following this discussion since July 2007, and guess what? In the (English) Daily Telegraph of March 8th 2008, is a headline ‘Device detects cancer from your breath’. A team led by Prof. Hugh Barr at Gloucester Royal Hospital is trialling an ‘artificial brain’ which detects chemicals in saliva that are reliable indicators of stomach, colon and throat cancers! It is claimed that this could give far earlier diagnoses and save millions of lives throughout the world! So perhaps this is proof that some of us really can ‘smell’ cancer.

  21. I was alerted to that sickening sweet smell years ago. In the back of my mind I had always linked it to cancer or impending death. I am fifty-eight, a physician, and now smell it on myself from time to time. Additionally, I am extremely tired more often than not, there is a kind of flattening of my emotions. My senses tell me I am sick, although strangely I am not alarmed.
    Perhaps I will keep posting thoughts as time goes by.

  22. I have a sickening-sweet odor from the sweat under my arms. I have had this previously twice… once as a teenager, for several weeks accompanied by my fingernails releasing from the nail bed and peeling away, and once for a few days a couple years ago. It can also accompany fevers and chills. Any ideas of what this might be or what I should ask my doctor to check on?

  23. So glad I found this discussion too. I knew I was no imagining it. I notice this old rotten smell the minute I get to my mom’s house. As I walk up the driveway I can smell it. I asked other family members if they notice it and they said no. How can that be? Well a few months after I first started noticing the smell, my mother was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer in her stomach that has spread to the lungs. I’m wondering if now it’s too late? All she does is stay in bed. I’m so sad, I feel like if I knew about the smell connection sooner I could have gotten her to a doctor quicker. I’m just praying now that the smell is strong that it’s not too late. I’m just praying for a few more months with my mom. It so so sad.

  24. I’m freaking out because the docter did some blood work and it came back compatible with multiple myloma twice. So now he is sending me to a hematologist. I have Hep C and the specialist thinks the blood is coming back funny looking because of my hep c, but she is not sure. Well anyway I have had a bad smell in my urine for over a year and the docters did not do one thing about it, now I’m smelling it on my breath and in my nose. It is a horrible smell and I think it is the smell of cancer. Any comments. Please send email to Thanks Darlene

  25. For several months now I have been smelling a very sickening sweet smell. It drives me crazy and I try to do many things to not smell it. I am scared. My father passed away 3 years ago from cancer. Many years ago I smelled the smell breast cancer untreated smells like. This odor is inside of me. I don’t want to die. I am having some tests run. What they do know is I have a spot on my brain they found it a year ago. I was supposed to go six months ago for another cat scan. I prcrastinate because it seems if I don’t know then it can’t hurt me. I am scared.

  26. My husband just passed away from stage IV pancreatic cancer. He noticed a smell as did I the day the lift chair came to the house from Hospice. We thought it was the chair. It was not. It was coming from him, and got worse the next few days, until he passed away. He just turned 61. I have never smelled anything like it. My sister is an LPN and has worked in nursing homes all of her life. She stayed with us, and she told me it was the smell of cancer. This should be something doctors use as an indicator.

  27. My mum died 3 weeks ago from Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. She was fit and well 8 weeks ago, dancing away at my 40th party. She had backache for a few weeks following that party and 4 weeks before she was diagnosed with it, both my mum and siblings noticed a smell that was omitting from her body. The only way to describe it, was like a pungent curry smell! We didn’t know how this odour had come about because she never ate anything spicey! Is this a sign??

  28. My mother died 10 days ago. She had had surgery for rectal cancer, but the cancer had spread to her bones. After several weeks of decline, the nursing home told us to gather the family, as death was imminent. When we got there, a nurse told us not to be alarmed by the odor in the room. She said it was the smell of death and that especially cancer patients give off this odor when they are about to die. We stayed at Mom’s bedside around the clock until the end (about 4 days). At first the smell was faint, but it got stronger as time went by. If I held her hand or stroked her face, the smell would be on me and I’d have to wash my hands. The last night, the odor was so bad I couldn’t be in the room. It was nauseating, and triggered my asthma to flare. I would stay just inside the door until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then would step out into the hallway for a few breaths of fresher air. It was very upsetting to me because I wanted to be with Mom. The nurses sprayed the curtains around the bed with Fabreeze. It helped a lot more than I’d anticipated. I was able to stay with Mom until she passed the next morning. It surprises me that I’d never heard of this smell before. People don’t talk about it. They should.

  29. A friend was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer 2 years ago. 18 months into her journey, it metastasized again, this time to her liver and marrow.
    In the last month and a half, I too have smelled an odor, the smell of rotting flesh. It is putrid. I am having a lot trouble with the gagging, rotting smell. I feel so bad because I can’t wait to get her home and air out the car.
    Yesterday, the smell was so bad it took me most of the rest of the day to get it out of my nasal passages and feel normal again.
    I will not abandon my friend so needed to come up with something to help me cope. Yesterday, I bought Vick’s Vapor Rub and applied it to the inside of my nose and under. Her sense of smell is really compromised so hope she does not smell the Vick’s on me. It really worked well! I hope this helps some of you. Is death soon? The smell is getting so strong.

  30. My hubby has had this strange odor to him for few months now. It smelled light and is now stronger. it almost smells like rotten garlic or something of that nature. He used to smell good and I know his odor has changed. We been married for 14 yrs. I would know. He just has some suspicious spots removed today on body. Dr. said it does not look good. Will send out for biopsies. Has anyone else noticed an odor on someone with the garlicy smell and has cancer???? Please email me personally if so!

  31. My wife and I have been able to detect this oder on many people for years. And now my wife has the oder and we are scared. She is only 45 years old. My daughter also had the smell and was diagnoesed with Cervical Cancer.
    Any new developments?
    This looks like an old site. (2007)

  32. I had breast cancer and a double mastectomy 5 years ago. A recurrence 2.5 yrs. ago. I did not have reconstruction at that time.
    In early Oct. I started tissue expansion for reconstruction. I have had this sweet smell since that time. I’ve since had lots of tests, and free tram flap reconstruction in mid Nov.
    I still have the smell. No one else can smell it but me. It is the sort of sweet, like the smell of lilies, that I can smell when kids have infection.
    I’ve gotten to where I breathe thru my mouth most of the time to avoid the smell.
    I wish someone could help me figure out what it is.

    Of course, I’m afraid it is more cancer, tho I never smelled it when I had either of the occurrences.

  33. I kept smelling a strange odour about my husband about 18 months ago.I thought it was from his breath.He could not smell it.It was intermittent,We did lots of dental hygeine and visited a dentist but nothing was detected.We even tried to connect the smell to diet.Nothing stacked up.Nobody else except me seemed to be aware of this smell.He was diagnosed with lung cancer 1 year after I detected these smells.It was an odour almost like moth balls !1 Any comments ?

  34. I have noticed over the past few weeks, a taste, or rather that I am tasting a strange smell (?) coming from inside of me, up through my throat and mouth… anyone ever had this experience? cancer?

  35. In response to Kerry (I’m not sure how to email you):
    About 6 months ago, my husband, who has always smelled very nice, started to have a sickly garlicky/burnt vitamin smell. It clung to the sheets and made the entire bedroom smell like that. The smell was not only coming from his breath, but also from his pores, and has gradually been worsening. Two days ago, he was diagnosed with an advanced case of prostate cancer. We’re not sure if it has spread yet, but reading the post makes me think it has. Does anyone have any comments?

  36. My father died of bowel cancer 15 years ago. I noticed for the last year, that my skin gives off an odor like clothes that have been wet for a long time, then dried and worn. I notice it most when I am showering, I scrub and scrub but it doesn’t leave me, but no one else, not even my husband says he smells this, it’s just me. I also get an overwhelming smell of smoke as though I’m in a small room with a load of smokers. I thought I was going crazy because again no one else can smell this. I’ve never been a smoker. In fear of cancer I tried a colon cleanser for two weeks and the smells left me, but I ran out and the smells are back worse than ever. I think I will go get some life insurance what do you think?

  37. I have been able to smell what I think is a cancer smell, a horrible deathly strong scent, I could almost taste it, I had to go home and shower! I smlt this smell and thought its smlls like cancer, and my partner thought I was mad, and then the people in the room had cancer! Weird hay! I have tought about this a lot and you know when you say, that tastes like grass or something and people say well how do you know have you tasted grass, but you have not it just smells like that, its because your smell is linked to your taste, and I am sure this happend to me with this smell! I ca still remeber the smell no, and it makes me fee sick! (not to ofend any one, but it could be really usefull!)

  38. A co-worker of mine started emitting an odor that I would describe as sour, when he was in an enclosed space it was almost unbearable! I finally spoke to a co-worker and she also noticed it. We debated how we could approach him about this as I’m sure we weren’t the only people who noticed. By the time I got up my courage to say something, he suddenly had a crisis, went to the doctor and was diagnosed with brain cancer. I was wishing I had said something earlier but in talking to him I realized he had known there was something wrong (though we didn’t talk about the odor) for some time and was afraid to go to a doctor. So, yes, I think there is a detectible odor associated with cancer.

  39. dad was 90 yrs old..passed from colon cancer..never having been to a dr ever in his life..he had been bleeding for a long time, until finally almost dying from lack of blood.he returned home after being in hospital, unable to ever walk again.. and then that smell, sweet, putrid, it permeated everysingle thing in the house…he has been gone over a yr ago.and we still cannot rememdy the house of the smell…oddly enough, i now can smell it in other places, on different people, with varying degrees…will it ever go away? what can a person do ?

  40. My brother developed a bumpy rah running down the inside of his jaw and partly down his throat. He had part of it lasered oiff but had a second appointment to finish the laser and have it tested for cancer. He did not go back and it has now grown to the level it was before it was lasered. Yesterday I asked him to help me work and I picked him up just after he showered. I have been around him almost daily all my life. Yesterday there was a very nasty flesh rotting smell that seemed to follow him. it was so strong that i had to use 2 cans of carpet fresh to remove the smell. I have never smelt this on him before and have no doubt that it is directly related to the throat rash. it is a smell that you’ve never smelled before.

  41. I justed started a job in hospice, where 80% of our patients have cancer, I also work in long term. This odor is not ability that people have, this smell is cancer. The odor is quite strong, but after smelling the exact same smell on different people whom all have cancer, this odor is real. Unless you’ve been around people who have cancer, you cannot truly know this smell. Scary if you can smell cancer on someone before they are diagnosed. I would strongly suggest a medical doctor confirm all cases before mentioning to someone that you may know has a cancerous odor.

  42. My aunt called me this morning and asked me to research if there was anything on people being able to smell cancer. She is one of 3 daughters who share responsiblity taking care of my grandmother. She says that when they go out (always in her car) for the day, she makes sure my grandma bathes right before they leave, but yet when my grandma gets out of the car, there is a sweet, fecal, rotting odor that lingers in the car for days. She said that she thought she was nuts until my her 15 year old daughter told her she smelled it as well. Apparently the odor is enough even after a day or 2 to still make them nauseaus. Is there any other sites I could explore for more info?? Any help would be greatly appreciated!!!

  43. I was an Accident and Emergency ambulance driver for 8 years in London. I soon came to recognise the smell of cancer on patients as a particular sweet sickly smell, different to any other smell I had ever smelt, I realised my aunt had cancer when I could smell it on her. She was having treatment for kidney problems she had blood in her urine and was sent for all sorts of tests that took weeks before they came up with the diagnosis. I wish I had the courage to tell her or pressured her GP. She died very quickly after being diagnosed.

  44. I was an Accident and Emergency ambulance driver for 8 years in London. I soon came to recognise the smell of cancer on patients as a particular sweet sickly smell, different to any other smell I had ever smelt, I realised my aunt had cancer when I could smell it on her. She was having treatment for kidney problems she had blood in her urine and was sent for all sorts of tests that took weeks before they came up with the diagnosis. I wish I had the courage to tell her or pressured her GP. She died very quickly after being diagnosed.

  45. I smelled a strange sweet sickly smell on my Dad before he died. He didnt’t have cancer, or at least he wasn’t diagnosed with it. The autopsy report showed other conditions, but no cancer, so I believe the smell was not cancer, but perhaps simply the the state of very compromised health? apparently people emit foul smell when they are sick. I think that it doesn’t necessarily have to be cancer.

  46. I forgot to add, apparently patients with liver diseases are known for having a peculiar smell.

  47. Like the others who have commented above, I was wondering if such a site as this might exist. My husband has the most bizarre (in the negative sense) smell coming from his breath. It is not at all typical halitosis; he exercises good oral care. There is a strangeness to his breath that I can smell when I am two or three feet from him. I was wondering if it might come from his lungs, or perhaps from his GI system. He takes NSAIDS, and I wondered if he might be a leaky gut. There is definitely something unhealthy going on. Now I am intrigued to find a place where I might smell a known case of cancer for the sake of comparison.

  48. I think I might have smelled cancer very recently. I was playing cards with a few friends and i soon started to smell this same sweet-sickly smell (it smelled like a chicen coup in my opinion). It became so revolting to me that i had to leave the room. I smelled it very faintly two stories up and it soon disappeared. I actually heard about smelling cancer on house so i googled it. At first I came up with the theory of a sensory seizure that might have provoked this, but now I’m pretty sure i might have smelled cancer on one of my friends. I havent seen them since and have not smelled this again.

  49. People have always joked with me about my sense of smell because I can smell things that others can’t. I became aware of this weird smell once when we had a roast once and there was something wrong with it because it has a mass of some sort in it. I have smelled that sent since when there was the presence of cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. I wasn’t sure if it was just something in the blood or not. I am beginning to wonder if it is related to this and I am smelling cancer. I also have noticed that I can tell if a woman is menstruating by her breadth as well. Nice to know there are others and I am not going crazy. Maybe this is a reason for some people’s intuition since smells stimulate so many memories. Would be an interesting research.

  50. I have been reading the comments and I too thought I could smell cancer, however, it has never smelled sickly sweet or rotting. The first time I smelled cancer was when I was a child and I went to visit some seniors at a nursing home. Our teacher took us to one part of the hospital where they cared for all of the cancer patients. As soon as we entered the hallway I was overwhelmed by an odor that was similar to urine, my teacher told me I was smelling cancer…I know what everyone is thinking…old people wet themselves. But I smelled the same odor on others when I worked as a Nurse Assistant. While visiting my father-in-law in the hospital two years ago I came across the same odor again…this time on someone I loved. At first I thought he had wet himself so I went to clean him, only to find out he had just been bathed! The next day we found out he was full of cancer and he passed away from it less than a week later.
    The reason I am telling my story is because I am smelling that odor again on another loved one. I want to be wrong. So, is the smell sickly sweet or has anyone else ever smelled something close to urine?

  51. Some of these bizarre smells are not the kiss of death… I once had a bad flu-like illness for a couple weeks, many decades ago. My body smelled like rotting wet rubber for several months after that, finally fading away.

  52. 257916 I have smelled something on me for the last couple of weeks. I do not know what it is. Could this be some kind of cancer on or in me. Maybe sinus or lung cancer?
    Please help me. I am 58 year old and a female.

  53. I have had a terible vaginal odor for the last few months. My ob tested me for std’s, etc and everything was negative. I still have the odor, it’s foul, smells like dirty socks… could this be a sign of cancer?

  54. I have had a terible vaginal odor for the last six months. My ob tested me for std’s, etc and everything was negative. I still have the odor, it’s foul, smells like dirty socks… could this be a sign of cancer?

  55. Pam, it could be bacterial vaginosis. This can be recurrent. Did your OB test for this?

    I do agree with the other comments that I have read here — I believe that there is a cancer smell that gets progressively worse with time. It seems to be a musty putrid odor. Yes – I think some people can smell cancer and are more sensitive to it than others. As the cancer progresses, the liver is trying its best — but ends up with heptic overload, which may contribute to the musty odor.

  56. 125874

    Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I could smell a sickening sweet rotten odor. And after my mastectomy it was gone. I asked my onc and he said it is possible.
    What an experience!

  57. I have had a very strong odor for the last 6 weeks, though no one else has mentioned it. To me it smells like over-cooked bacon and it is definately urine related. No discharge, so it isn’t vaginal. There are times I can smell/taste it when I am not in the bathroom. After reading some of the above, I am getting nervous. I have made an appointment with my urologist and will let you know.

  58. I believe that i also can smell cancer on a person before a doctor disagnose it. I have worked as a nurse aide for 12 years and I have been around people who I knew by the smell had cancer. My mother and father both died of some type of cancer. I could often smell this smell of rottening flesh, although i kept it to myself, it scares me because now for about the last few years i myself have that same smell, a month ago my doctor found a mass 8cmm on my liver, i am waiting test to see what it may be.

  59. I have noticed a smell on my husband in the last few months. He is taking new medications in the last year and drinks a lot of milk(skim). When we were on the train in Italy a few months ago a pregnant woman put her head over her mouth in revulsion when my husband had to step in front of her. There are times that I can’t stand the smell myself—-though usually at night. He had a long history of tobacco and alcohol. His father died of lung cancer. He sits down at his desk and writes most days causing him to get hemmroids a year ago. Now I think he has a sour milk smell which I detest. Should I make him go to the doctor?

  60. wow! I can’t believe I found this site.
    My Father died of brain and esophogial cancer back in 2005 . I am a service technician and I go in to a dozen homes every day . and pretty often I smell My father. after talking with many customers I find out some have cancer . it is the same exact oder my father had. most customers tell me they have no health issues. but this oder hits me as soon as the front door opens. I am no doctor but now I am convinced cancer can be detected long before any medical test is given . thats amazing and I cant believe no medical association is looking in to this.
    once this oder is detected what would be the next step ?
    is it possible to catch cancer at an earlier stage and treat it ?

  61. This is a very helpful article, but wish there could be a better description of the ACTUAL SMELL, to help us know if what we may be smelling on people (or even ourselves) IS “the cancer smell” or other physiological odors. For example, a “ketogenic diet” can produce a body odor, but it is not clear if the “cancer odor” is related or similar to that “Ketone smell.” Some medical conditions can produce a strong salty, fatty perspiration odor that resembles rancid chicken soup! Have smelled this on a woman at church and on a woman selling flowers at a street vendor site. Please describe more details about the “smell of cancer.” Please post additional info if and when available. MANY thanks.

  62. This is a very helpful article, but wish there could be a better description of the ACTUAL SMELL, to help us know if what we may be smelling on people (or even ourselves) IS “the cancer smell” or other physiological odors. For example, a “ketogenic diet” can produce a body odor, but it is not clear if the “cancer odor” is related or similar to that “Ketone smell.” Some medical conditions can produce a strong salty, fatty perspiration odor that resembles rancid chicken soup! Have smelled this on a woman at church and on a woman selling flowers at a street vendor site. Please describe more details about the “smell of cancer.” Please post additional info if and when available. MANY thanks.

    PS At least one other person has mentioned the “chicken soup” smell. This is odd since there has been zero “sweetness” to this smell, which many people make reference to.

  63. I too have found over the past 20+ years that I smell cancer . . . I, myself, had cancer which went into remission after 5 years. During that time of illness, though, I could smell a very distinctive scent and I knew it was the cancer.

    Now, I smell it on others, and later am not surprised to find out they were diagnosed with cancer. It’s not a pleasant “ability.” Truthfully, it’s highly annoying on many levels. People do NOT want to hear from me that I can smell cancer on them! And, I won’t tell them. However, perhaps some day there will be some research done on this, and this ability to smell the cancer on someone else could be used to help.

  64. My husband smells like he is rotting, even fresh out of the shower. I find it hard to be in same room with him, he is so foul and pungent. He does not notice it. Smell has been growing for months. First it was subtle, then even after he’d get up for the day, our bedsheets and bedroom would still smell of this lingering pungence. Now it’s coming from his breath as well. He’s 34 and has been smoking a pack a day for 14 years. He’s also a heavy drinker. I want to attribute it to his drinking – but I honestly think cancer. He sleeps more than he’s awake most days of the week. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. He hasn’t been to a doctor since 8 and has little interest in ever preserving his health. It’s sad to watch.

  65. Hey teenyz, the combination of smoking and heavy drinking is known to cause both larynx and hypopharyngeal cancer. At — Use of tobacco products and heavy drinking can affect the risk of developing hypopharyngeal cancer (throat cancer). See here:

    Since it is coming from his breath, you’ll want to know that bad breath is also a common symptom that patients surveys at had for pharynx cancer. See here:

    Also, the American cancer society reports here:
    that People who use both tobacco and alcohol have the highest risk of all head and neck cancers (including cancers of the larynx and hypopharynx). Combining these 2 habits doesn’t just add both risks together, it actually multiplies them. Some reports have found that people who smoke and drink are up to 100 times more likely to get head and neck cancer than are people with neither habit.

    If you can get him to a doctor, see if they can do an endoscopy.

    I know the exact odor you are referring to. I have to sleep with the ceiling fan running and all doors to the bedroom open. It is a putrid, rotten odor that I can even smell from 18” away.

  66. I am so pleased that I found this site. I told my husband that I think I can smell cancer & he told me that I’m nuts! I could smell it on my mother 20 years ago & just thought she had bad breath, she passed 17 years ago from bowel cancer. For years my best friend had the same smelly breath, she was just diagnosed with a tumor on her thyroid & has had it removed. My husband had a very large melonoma removed from his back last December, I kept telling him not to worry because I couldn’t smell cancer on his breath. The tests all came back negative, he has no cancer! Now I know I’m not crazy!

  67. My mother passed away a year ago from ovarian cancer. I could smell it. Hard to describe other than it smells like cancer…..I agree that it smells somewhat like old dirty clothes..socks to be exact.I have had female issues every since I have had children and have been to numerous doctors. Nothing wrong..Nothing was wrong with my mother either until they found the cancer.SHe died a year after being diagnosed.I now have the scent of cancer myself and it makes me sick to breathe it in. I have no doubt that cancer is in me. Why can’t or wont the doctors test me?

  68. Terry — if you are worried about ovarian cancer, have your doctor do a CA125 blood test (which will only pickup half of ovarian cancers) and a vaginal ultrasound. I just had both of these tests done the other day. Since you have a first degree relative that had it and they should test you for it. Go to an OB/GYN doctor specifically and get tested.

  69. RE: Sickening, sweet breath of cancer patients:
    I hope this site is still active; my husband died last month from HCC w/ NAFLD/NASH. That means liver cancer triggered by food additives and preservatives.His breath always had a distinctly bad odor.

  70. There totally is an odor to cancer. Someone mentioned smelling it in the car. When I was a girl, my grandmother had cancer and her car had this rotting milk, musty stink that is so distinctive. . . I didn’t smell it again until a year before my father died of terminal lung cancer. I’ll never forget the day. We just got done playing golf on a really hot day, he turned on the air in his car, and I knew it right away. As soon as I smelled it, I told my husband and he thought I was crazy. Instead of telling my dad, I bought him the patch that summer for his birthday and mentioned that he maybe should get a lung x-ray. . .he used the patch. . .and quit smoking, but never got the x-ray. He died 6 months later within a month of his diagnosis. When I was pregnant, I caught a whiff of that smell of all places in between my fingers from time to time. It freaked me out. Lately, I’ve noticed the smell on myself again and I am scared because I’ve also been having back pain, fatigue, and a swollen sore neck.

  71. In October 2009 I was having stomach pain and I could detect that distinct smell of cancer on myself. At the time I hadn’t seen a doctor so I did not know for sure. After tests it was determined that I had DLBCL and ended up taking R-CHOP chemotherapy. I was familiar with the smell because I smelled it on my mother when she died of cancer. I am a firm beliver that humans can smell cancer.

  72. About a year ago, I started having a pus like smell to my body. I brought this up to my physician and they passed it off as nothing. I think this is odd after reading this but, they just found a lump in my liver and a thickening of my gall bladder that looks suspicious. To think it might be connected! How odd!

  73. Hind sight is always 20/20. A little over five years ago my husband had a major abdominal surgery. He did have an odd odor prior to the surgery. I have not noticed an odor since that surgery until most recently. A few months ago, I thought I could smell something familiar. Just this past month it is getting stronger and more pungent. The odor hangs in the room he spends the most time in, the car, and on clothing and bedding. The odd thing is, he just had his annual visit to his cancer doctor. They are not concerned about recurrence after looking at a CT scan. It is very difficult to express concern after such a positive visit with his doctor. Any advice??

  74. I found this blog because I have wondered over last few years when I could tell by smelling my spotlessly clean grandmothers body if her cancer was back or not before her check ups she has had 4 rounds over last six years and I always know when its back. I have always had an amazing sense of smell but this scares me. I do not make it a habit of smelling people but her I do and my family members know by my expression when I kiss her whether the is trouble ahead.

  75. I am 44 years old. Last year I had a large, deep basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. It required skin grafting and has now healed (even though there is scaring). Prior to seeking treatment for the strange lump on my nose, I started getting a strange smell. It gradually and slowly progressed to a smell that was so strong that it was driving me crazy. I had a hard time smelling anything else. At first I thought it was just a smell of someone smoking cigarettes. The smell became constant, however, and the closest way to describe it is to say it is similar to nicotine but unique. I do not smoke and no one in my family smokes. I think my family thought I was being a little melodramatic about it or something but I have a friend who is a nurse and she worked with oncology patients and she said cancer does have smells. After my basal cell surgery, the smell went away (which confirmed for me that I definitely smelled cancer). It is now six months later, and the smell has started to come back. While my basal cell carcinoma was easily treatable and not metastatic, etc., I’m now a bit worried the cancer may be in my nasal passages or nasal cavity (because there are no outward visual signs). Based on the smell coming back, I made an appointment with my doctor, which is coming up soon…..

  76. I have to admitt that I am thrilled to read that I am not alone to smell cancer in people.Indeed I first identified that smell when I worked with patients having cancer.Later on when that very specific smell came from people I again identified it as a ”cancer smell” much before they were diagnosed having it.What is my right to say to someone that he must have cancer?? May be some researches could be done in that field because it could truly be a tool to cut down the cancer just before it blows up.It is highly frustrating to not be able to put that information on ”the table” since Science didn’t recognize it as A FACT ,because then you are at risk to be accused of being insane…Too bad !!!

  77. I have worked in the medical field for several decades and have also noted the odor. The sicker the patient the worse the odor. Currently a close family member has the strong odor even after bathing , clothing reeks of it.
    You are definitely not crazy.
    Most people have a distinct odor, I have noticed some people before dying (heart disease) have no odor at all, like they are disappearing a little at a time…….

  78. thank you for these posts. I, too, can detect by smell when some people are fighting cancer. For the longest time I thought I was the only one; and I thought that people would think I’m crazing for saying such a thing. But so far, I am 6 for 6 (detected cancer in 6 people whose body’s emitted the same odor). And most recently, I detected the odor on my mother.

    This “gift” as some people call it is more of a curse to me. I have asked myself many times over the years “why me”, and what am I supposed to do with this?

    I have contacted the American Cancer Society, and they have redirected me to send a letter to their research department in Atlanta. I will be sending the letter tomorrow. I don’t know what this will accomplish, but I feel that I have to do something.

    Troy Wussow
    Kansas City, MO
    Aikijudo-Jitsu Ryu

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