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Sniffer dogs to be trialled in New Zealand to detect bowel cancer

A new trial using sniffer dogs to detect bowel cancer in patients is hoped to free up medical professionals' workloads and lead to earlier detection.

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A new trial is hoped to free up the workload and lead to earlier detection of the disease. Source: Breakfast

Specially trained dogs, like German Shepherd Levi - who will start working in January when he's 20 months old, will be sniffing the urine of patients as part of the Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust's trial next year.

The Trust's chief executive Georgina Mason said the genetically-bred working dogs start training at three months old. At 12 months they start serious detection work.

"Overseas studies have shown that they can have extremely high accuracy," Ms Mason told TVNZ 1's Breakfast.

"We're talking about 95 to 100 per cent for different things that they're testing, so blood, faeces, urine and breath."

In comparison, the home screening test for bowel cancer has about 93 to 97 per cent accuracy.

"They're [the dogs] actually under-utilised I think," Ms Mason said, talking about long waiting lists for colonoscopies and how dogs could help in prioritising.

In July, there were 17,000 people on the colonoscopy waiting list, including urgent, non-urgent and surveillance patients. 

"That's the problem we have at the moment, our workforce unfortunately isn't able to keep up. So what we're hoping with this test is that it'll actually prioritise those patients that are more likely to have bowel cancer.

"If we can prioritise those patients that are more likely to have bowel cancer we can get them the treatment that they need first."

When asked if New Zealand was on it's way to addressing the under-represented disease, Ms Mason said she had hopes the Government's new cancer agency would address the equity of care across the country.

She also said the late cancer care reform activist Blair Vining and his wife Melissa had done a lot to bring awareness to the disease, which is one of the most diagnosed diseases in the county.

"I think we're on our way, with a test like this we'll be able to free up the workforce until it has time to catch up so I think that's the most exciting part about this trial."