Woman Says Her Dog Detected Her Ovarian Cancer, But There’s No Scientific Proof Pets Can Help Diagnose the Disease

Published Dec 5, 2018

Here are the facts about how much dogs can smell.

While there is no medical proof that pets can really smell cancer, another story of a person crediting her dog with saving her life has gone viral recently.

Stories of pets smelling cancer come up regularly, but it’s important to remember that these are just anecdotal, and do not mean that there is definitive proof of dogs beings able to sniff out disease. However, one study did show that cancer does have a specific smell, so while you shouldn’t depend on your furry friend to tell you if you have cancer lurking in your body, it is possible that in the future there may be a way to train dogs to sniff out illness. Much more testing is required on the issue, though.

In this case, a Wisconsin woman is saying her dog was able to alert her to her Ovarian cancer, and then did so again when she relapsed twice. In 2013, Stephanie Herfel’s beautiful Siberian husky began acting strangely. “She put her nose on my lower belly and sniffed so intently that I thought I spilled something on my clothes,” she told the Journal Sentinel. “She did it a second and then a third time. After the third time, Sierra went and hid. I mean hid!”

Herfel had already been to the emergency room for stomach pains, but the doctor there said she had ovarian cysts, she says. After her dog’s obsessing sniffing, though, she decided to get a second opinion, and after a visit to the gynecologist and some testing, she was diagnosed with stage 3c ovarian cancer. She then had a full hysterectomy, removing her uterus and ovaries, as well as removal of her spleen, followed by chemotherapy that lasted until April of 2014. In the following years—both 2015 and 2016—the dog began acting in the same strange, scared way again, and sure enough, the cancer had returned, Herfel told the Journal Sentinel.


Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect because of its quiet, almost invisible, symptoms. Dr. Beth Karlan, Director of the Women’s Cancer Program at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says that signs of the disease are often overlooked because they are very similar to those that women experience during their menstrual periods. “It’s often referred to as the cancer that whispers, in that it has symptoms that are really very vague…and nothing that may bring your attention directly to the ovaries,” she told SurvivorNet.

There is also conflicting information on how to lower your risk of ovarian cancer. For example, a recent study said that taking aspirin daily may lower the risk, but other studies have shown no benefits to taking the medication daily. As always, be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any reason to believe you may have ovarian cancer or are concerned about your health.

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