Cancer-sniffing dogs aid in early detection

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A new program trains dogs to help detect the early stages of cancer in firefighters. (KABC)

Thomas Thompson put himself in danger every day for 50 years, but the retired firefighter didn't see another danger lurking: cancer.

"I don't think that we ever expected that, and that's the reason it's always a large shock when somebody tells you that you have it," Thompson said.

A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found higher rates of cancer in firefighters than in the rest of the U.S. population.

The International Firefighter Cancer Foundation is encouraging firefighters to seek help sooner rather than later. They hope firefighters will take advantage of their new tool to check for cancer - dogs.

"The dog can actually go in and smell something and be able to tell in that moment that there's something that's changed in the body,' dog trainer Janice Wolfe said.

Wolfe said if a dog like Savannah senses the cancer, she lingers on the spot. If the person is cancer free, she sits.

The group's been working with service dogs trained to find diseases for the last three years. They work with Syracuse University to further research the benefits and uses of cancer-sniffing dogs.

"To be able to use a non-invasive process to find stage zero cancers and diseases, ahead of many cases of traditional medicine, is something that ten years ago was unheard of," said Cindy Ell, executive director of the International Firefighter Cancer Foundation.

For Thompson, he beat his prostate cancer with early detection and aggressive treatment. Now, he's urging his fellow firefighters to be aware of a real occupational hazard.

"They need to take advantage of everything they can and keep as informed as they can," Thompson said.

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