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28 January, 2022
 
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Cancer survivor says 'hero' Labrador saved her life by 'sniffing out' tumour

Dog pawed on her right breast for six weeks in the exact spot where she discovered a lump

Source: Daily Mail

A cancer survivor has hailed her hero 'best friend' Labrador for saving her life after he sniffed out her stage three breast cancer.

Dogs have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and can pick up on 'volatile organic compounds', which are released from the early stages of many cancers, including ovarian, lung and colorectal.

Mother-of-two Anna Neary, 46, from Wakefield, Yorkshire, said she would 'get cross' when eight-year-old Harvey persistently pawed at her right breast and refused to leave her side for six weeks until she discovered two lumps in the same spot.

Anna was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes in November 2018, one month after Harvey appeared to have begun to sense something was wrong.

The mother-of-two has since undergone three years of treatments, including chemotherapy and a mastectomy, during which medics discovered an aggressive 5.5cm tumor which advanced the diagnosis to stage three.

She now believes it was Harvey who saved her life, explaining: 'I dread to think where I would be if it wasn't for him. Without him, it could have been a different story.'

The specialist support worker admitted she doesn't regularly check her breasts and probably would have never found the lumps if it wasn't for Harvey.

Anna said: 'Harvey has seen me at my best and worst. He's my best friend.

'We have such a good bond which I think is why he could sense it. He thinks he's a lapdog but he's massive.'

She explained how he 'sensed' something was wrong, explaining: 'He'd sit on my knee anyway but he was pawing at my right breast and I'd get cross with him so he'd just lay his head there.

'He wouldn't leave me alone. If I went to the bathroom, he'd come and then when I got back, he'd put his head straight back on my breast.  He wouldn't stop doing it for six weeks. He was really persistent.  I felt like he was trying to tell me there was something wrong so I decided to check my breasts and found two lumps.  I just thought "what the hell is that" and went to the doctor.  They said if I didn't go in when I did, I might not have made it. I owe Harvey my life.'

Anna underwent a mastectomy followed by 12 grueling rounds of chemotherapy and 16 rounds of radiotherapy.  Harvey and Anna's bond grew stronger as the pet supported her through treatment.  Anna said: 'I was in shock. I didn't know what was going to happen.  The chemo was awful and Harvey was there for me the whole way.  I had to take three years off work so we've spent a lot of time together just me and him.'

In January 2020, following the mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Anna received the good news that the cancer was gone.  However, she insisted that Harvey saved her life as medics said that if the tumor had been discovered any later, it's likely she wouldn't have survived.  Thanks to the early diagnosis, Anna is back at work after she was forced to take three years off to recover.

She explained: 'Going back to work was hard because he's so used to me.  I'm still not fully myself but I don't have cancer anymore so I'm grateful for that.'

She'll need hormone therapy for ten years before she's given the all-clear.  She said her daughters, Emily, 25, and Morgan, 19, spoil Harvey to show their gratitude for saving their mum's life.

Anna said: 'My daughters love him so much. They're so grateful.  I've always been nice to him but we're so thankful.  He's such an amazing and clever dog. We feel very lucky.'

HOW DO DOGS 'SNIFF OUT CANCER'?

Dogs have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and can pick up on 'volatile organic compounds', which are released from the early stages of many cancers, including ovarian, lung and colorectal.

Scientific studies have shown pooches can separate between blood and tissue samples donated from ovarian cancer patients and healthy people by picking up on minute quantities of VOCs.

Studies have also shown dogs can sniff out prostate cancer in a man's urine, as well as breast and lung forms of the disease from compounds in a patient's breath.

If a dog detects this on their owner, they may try to alert them by paying them more attention, sniffing them, or 'comforting' them by gently licking their hands or feet, or laying beside them for no reason.

If a person notices their dog is regularly acting differently around them, it may be worth looking out for other cancer symptoms, such as pain, fatigue and weight loss.

Experts have said specially-trained dogs could particularly help women with ovarian cancer, which has no screening program and is usually only diagnosed when advanced.

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