A Rochester, Minnesota, breast cancer survivor believes that her dog is to thank for first detecting her tumor.
In the fall of 2014, Tara Leonard was in her final year as a student at Minnesota School of Business, KRON 4 News reported. She had just turned 40 and was planning on scheduling her first mammogram for March, after she finished with school.
“I was laying in bed studying for a test, when Willow jumped up on the bed, put her nose to my left side, I told her to get down I was busy studying,” Leonard told KRON 4 News.
The dog was persistent in her behavior, which was uncharacteristic of the typically well-behaved dog, according to Leonard.
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“She got down on the floor and was sneezing and doing whatever she could, just being weird," Leonard said. "Jumped back up on the bed and this time, it was wet slimy and gross and I went to wipe it off and that’s when I felt the lump.”
Leonard went to a doctor, then received a mammogram, a biopsy, and ultimately, a diagnosis: invasive ductal carcinoma, breast cancer.
“Doctors said, ‘we caught it just in time,' I had no node involvement, but they said it would have only been a matter of time until it spread to the nodes," she said.
As a veterinary technician, Leonard believes it is definitely possible that Willow detected her tumor.
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Medical Detection Dogs, a U.K. organization that trains dogs to identify diseases by odor, has started the first ever canine breast cancer detection trial. Dr. Claire Guest, founder of the organization, was reportedly first alerted to her own breast cancer by her dog.
As Principal Investigator of the trial, Guest hopes to find volatiles present in breath samples collected from patients with breast cancer.
“In the long term, we hope to assist scientists to develop E-noses, that is to say electronic systems that are able to detect the odor of cancer through cheap, quick, non-invasive tests," Guest said, according to a news release on the Medical Detection Dogs website. "If we can prove the principle that breast cancer is detectable on a person’s breath, machines could eventually detect that odor.”
Leonard is now cancer-free, and forever grateful to her canine companion, KRON 4 News reported.
“You just have to give her that extra hug and that extra kiss and realize that she’s there for a reason,” Leonard said.