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Is there a smell to cancer?

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I was uncertain where to post this but figured here might be the best choice, so people with experience may see it. I have heard about cancer sniffing dogs but I am thinking more generally, is there a smell to cancer that people can smell? Is it related to late stage disease? I read a couple things on the net that lead me to believe that there may be something to this.

No offense to anyone and not to my dear one either, he showers and all - I've been changing the bed more frequently but it seems to me that the room smells funny sometimes, like an old people smell? If there is such a thing. It seems to be increasing maybe. And I am not sure but it seems like our pets might be acting funny.

Anyone have an opinion on this? Thanks, Margaret

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Drugs always leave a smell, the use of Papier d'Armanie Triple,

helps deodorize sick rooms.

Dogs are trained to smell for skin and prostrate cancer(UK).

The pets may be reacting to sickness more than the smell.

Good luck.



I know this was a serious question, and I'm curious too...but when J.C. posted her knowledge of UK dog trainings, I just HAD to chime in that OF COURSE a dog could be taught to sniff for prostate cancer, their noses always go to that area anyway!

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Yes, there are dogs with particularly sensitive noses that are trained for sniffing out cancer. And then there are anecdotal stories too. I have a friend who had a melanoma on her thigh. It was a mole that she hadn't noticed as being worrisome....but her dog sure did! He approached her one day after she was out of the shower....sniffed at her leg and then started to try to bite the mole!! She took a closer look at it then...went to the doctor, and sure enough, it was cancerous! She credits her dog for the "warning".

When I started chemo.....the first infusion was in my hand...and when I got home that day my female dog sniffed and sniffed at me. Eventually she centered on my hand and then tried to lick the spot where the needle had been. I'm not saying she is a cancer sniffing dog....but boy, was she ever tuned in to where the chemo was hooked up.

As for there being a difference in one's body odor....I tend to agree that the drugs...the chemo...can have an impact. I also think my sniffer works better now that I don't smoke anymore, too....but sometimes I can detect an unusual scent about myself that I didn't ever notice prior to treatment. Sometimes, it's right after I shower too....so it's like a scent that you can't just "wash away"....it emanates somehow. Don't know if that makes sense.

I keep hoping it goes away. :roll: It is sorta that scent of Eau de Sickroom...ya know? :? No amount of Estee seems to completely disguise it, either! :wink: When you stop and think, though, about the impact of chemo on our systems....well, it's no real surprise that it could impact one's normal *aroma*.

Geez....gotta sign off. I need to go shower. Just talking about this makes me feel icky! :oops:

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Our bedroom smells all the time, it's the chemo Dave is sweating out. I worry about prospective buyers coming to see the house, figure if I change the sheets just before the come maybe that will help, but it seems like it just permeates the air. Both of us noticed it and know that's what it is.

I would think that even after you're done with chemo that would stay with you for some months.



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I have read this and had a hard time deciding wether or not to answer. Its to each his or her own opinion, so I am sorry if I upset anyone. But right before my dad was diagnosed - my mom would tell me she KNEW something was wrong - becuase there was an odor in the air that she could only remember as my nana was emiting a few days before her passing. Yes, I believe it is an old people smell, its the chemo, its all the drugs, its the cancer, its all of those things.

So after he was dx with this crap we all hate, she told me again that she knew something was wrog becuase he had a smell to him. I dont know if this helps or not. I just pray for you and your family to have a safe and happy holiday. Much love, Angela

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I've told this story here before, but for those who are new:

When my Dad was dying of lung ca, my sister's little miniature pinscher would always enjoy visiting her "Grampa." She would run into the house, bound into the bedroom and then use all the power in her little legs to jump up on his bed. He enjoyed her visits greatly.

The morning he died, she would not enter the house. She looked at my sister, whimpered, and sat down.

Did she smell something? Did she sense my sister's grief? Who knows? But she seemed to know her "Grampa" was gone.

The original article on the dogs sniffing bladder cancer, from BMJ.com, is available full-text for free. Citation: Carolyn M Willis, Susannah M Church, Claire M Guest, W Andrew Cook, Noel McCarthy, Anthea J Bransbury, Martin R T Church, and John C T Church. BMJ (2004), 329:712 (25 September), doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7468.712

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Thanks everyone, I knew someone here would have good info, good opinions. Some good jokes, too. Smelling like an old fart, ha, ha. And showers - I can relate. I later remembered, the dog I lost to cancer had a smell to him, I just put it down to dog smell, but it is same sort of smell. He was taking drugs, too, so my guess is that the toxins and the drugs, either or both, are effecting body chemistry.

Happy holidays to everyone! We all have today and that is a blessing.


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I think my dad smells normal - but he swears that the dogs have noticed something different. My parents have two Golden Retrievers, and as soon as my dad ca,e back from the hospital - post diagnosis - he told me that Duffy was treating him differently, and wondered if she "smelled the cancer".

According to my understanding of the rate at which lung cancer cells reproduce, my father had cancer cells in him for at least 10 years before the chest x-ray showed disease. And, since Duffy is only 8, she has been around for the whole time the cancer had been growing.

In response to his concern, I told my Dad that Duffy probably noticed that he was a bit unsteady etc., and that he wasn't devoting as much energy to her as usual. I'm sure he smelled like "hospital" too.

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  • 4 weeks later...

First, this is my first post here, been reading and lurking for a few months... forgive me if this rambles.


I have been a nurse for 19 years.

Yes, you can smell cancer.

My husband, 53, was diagnosed this past September with extensive stage SCLC.... long story made short....

I was asleep with him, my head on his chest. For some reason I woke up because "Nancy Nurse" mode kicked in. I smelled cancer.... this was in late April/early May of 2004.

The reaction that made me wake up was much like a mother hearing her child cry. I have no children, but there are certain gasping sounds, etc. that I hear in the hospital that just trigger me to wake up. Suppose it's a response to knowing what sounds are important... and after this, I guess smells can be also included in those triggers.

Needless to say, I was petrified, hoped I was dreaming but knew I was not. But somehow, I couldn't accept that the smell was coming from his breath.

We had been apart for a few months and he had pneumonia while he was gone. A chest Xray showed a "small, irregular parechymal density" in the upper left lobe. I got these reports in the mail shortly after this 'smell' episode. I urged him at that point to go and get another xray, as the doc had wanted him to.

I never told him about the smell until after he was diagnosed bc I didn't want to freak him out. Plus, it was not 'proof' there was something going on, and he is a 'fact' person.

After the chemo (which I have also given to patients and yes, that too does have an odor to it) I told him about that night, about the smell.

He has had 4 rounds of VP-16 and carboplatin. We are now moving on to radiation. I haven't smelled it on him since the second round of chemo, but I have noticed the chemo smell.

I have worked extensively with oncology patients and those who worked with me (nurses mostly, some aides and docs) agreed, you *can* smell it on people.

The smell is one I cannot describe. It is almost rancid, but not offensive. It permeates the air around the person. It dwells in the curtains, the linens and the clothes of the person.

I also remember the smell when my uncle was diagnosed when I was 14 (he also had SCLC). At that time, I wasn't sure what it was, but he didn't get chemo. He didn't smell like the man who taught me to ride my bike, mow the lawn... till the garden.

Having smelled the same smell before being a nurse and after being a nurse... I have to say, yes... it does have an odor. Not sure everyone has the same sensitivity to it.

Just my 2.2 cents... and 2 nostrils speaking.

Hope this helps, sorry if it's rather disorganized.

I wish you all the best.

Kind regards.

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Just wanted to say thanks to the welcoming.

It's a hard place to be in. I hope to write out the whole situation and post here. Not sure if it belongs in introductions or in this forum.

Again, thank you kindly for your support.

Oh.... on the smell thing. I might perceive it differently. Here's why:

I am one of the lucky ppl that God didn't program to smell skunks. Yes... I have never, ever smelled a skunk even when my dog got sprayed when I was still a kid.

So, my nostrils and olfactory bulbs are a few bricks short of a load to begin with. :wink:

best to everyone

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Hey Cellar Door.

We would be the best of friends if you can't smell. I smell much like a skunk. :P

Again, glad you are joining in with this group. Yes. Please post under Newcommer's where folks there will give you a warm welcome and be able to find out about you and hubby.

I think that you will be a great asset to our group!

Cindi o'h

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I also hesitate to post this, but, here goes... My little shih tzu, probably 6 months before my DX, would jump on the sofa when I would get home, very excited, but , would stop and dig his nose into my chest in the center and sniff and would be relentless with the sniffing, understandablely, it drove me crazy, and I would actually joke about, "What is it, I stink" comments, and push him away. He also never did this to anyone else in the house..... He has not done it once, since I have had treatment and stability in my disease. I actually have thoughts about this before, Did he smell the cancer in my chest? It was the exact spot where my tumor and lymph nodes were active. Sounds crazy, but hey, animals are so sensitive to smell.......Maybe this is something..... Never know

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