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How to Detect Skin Cancer by Smell

Updated on June 12, 2017

Six Types of Skin Cancer

In a previous Hub, I mentioned that through the years I had witnessed a few physicians somehow determine the possibility of cancer by using the sense of smell. See How to Reckon with the Symptoms Cancer Presents. Apparently, these few individuals were sensitive to the odors that chemicals in and around areas of skin cancer exude. Hard evidence of such odors and the ability to detect them was released in a paper issued on August 21, 2008.


Monell Chemical Senses Center (2008, August 21). Scent Of Skin Cancer Discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 6, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/08/080820162842.htm

The Monell Chemical Senses Center was the site of this research work. Amazingly, they are applying the results of the use of human senses to such diverse areas inquiry for improvement as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, children's health, job related safety, pollution, and even homeland security.

In 1968, the company formed to look into taste, smell and "chemo-sensory irritation." I believe the last item is what was occurring with physicians I have seen detect cancer through an odor -- They did not all seem to "smell" it, but some seemed only to experience an alarm of some sort in their brains.

Odors and BSC

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most commonly occurring skin cancer among the three most common types and of six total types of skin cancer known in the 21st century. The Mayo Clinic asserts that BSC is the most easily treatable of the skin cancers to treat and usually appears as one of two phenomena:

  • A bump or bumps of a pearly or waxy nature on the neck, ears, or face, or
  • One or more lesions that loook like a scar and appear flat and either flesh-colored or brown and appear on the chest or back.

Anything that looks like either of these should be seen by a doctor immediately.

In related research, the American Chemical Society worked with the US National Institutes of Health funding, among others, and found that chemicals (volatile organic compounds) are emitted by BSC into the area above the cancerous skin area. The chemicals are exuded in different proportions by BSC and non-cancerous skin and this difference is the marker (indicator of valid evidence) of BSC. Volatile in this scenario does not mean explosive. "Volatile" means readily evaporating at room temperature.

Perhaps this VOCs, are less volatile at lower temperatures and some physicians may be able to detect them. What I have seen is like a hypersensitive sense of smell in a few doctors a or some phenomenon that bypasses smell and registers in the brain in some other way, likely as an alarm.

Thus, what some people did not believe could occur and what some others deemed "quack alternative medicine" has been shown to be possible. It is likely, whoever, that very few people will be able to smell out cancer without the help of a device of some sort - a Spock's® tricorder sort of device, perhaps and something a bit more sensitive than a Breathalyzer for detecting alcohol fumes.

Michelle Gallagher, PhD was interviewed for Science Daily about the presentation of the research results at the 236th regular meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Future study plans includes the authoring of Cancerous Skin Profiles not only for BSC, but also for the more serious squamous cell carcinoma and most serious melanoma among the Top Three Types of Skin Cancers.

Further Comments on the Odors of Skin Cancer

These VOC Profiles of cancerous skin need to be plotted agasint baseline readings for a number of factors that may include a greater number of that the proposed threes of gener, age, and body site. We may find that they must also include these, among others:

  • Blood Types
  • Presence of chronic conditions such as diabetes
  • Racial subdivisions & ethnicities
  • Usual Diet

We may in the end find a number of factors are involved, or only a few.

Gallagher, completed a study prior to 2008 in which they looked at forearm and back areas of healthy males and females ages 19 - 79 with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. They found about 100 chemical compounds exuded by skin.

They were able to determine a "normal" skin profile and a different Normal profile for 1) the forearm and 2) the back. In other words, a healthy forearm of skin puts out different chemicals in different quantities than does a health back of skin.

Advancing age resulted in only an increase of the amount of certain chemicals put out, not the type of these chemicals. Perhaps this is a factor in why some physicians in my experience could smell the cancer.

The patients, were indeed, older (over 50); however, I do not think most people could smell cancer even among these patients. The Gallagher study looked at 25 people, and will need to be replicated by others and in larger subject pools in the future in order to account for solid evidence.

DNA splitting (public domain)
DNA splitting (public domain)

Skin Cancer, Moles, and Warts

Research released July of 2008 showed that cancerous moles exude a protein that non-cancerous moles do not emit. I think that it may be possible that this protein could also be connected with emissions of VOCs.

Does this protein, in fact, exude an odor or odor-like chemical? It may benefit the programs of both the "smell" studies and the "protein" studies to join forces and find out. The protein, IMP-3 is present on both harmless and cancerous moles, but is present in significantly greater quantities in cancerous moles. Warts may or may not exhibit similar actions.


University of Rochester Medical Center (2008, July 20). Protein Found To Identify Malignant Melanoma. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 6, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/07/080717110231.htm

Increasing numbers of methods for detecting skin cancer early will result in longer lives and increased health. In 1950, who would have though that cancer could be smelled or measured for protein? Perhaps science fiction and futurist writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and the chemist Isaac Asimov.

Less-Known Skin Cancers

The Mayo Clinic researches and treats three additional forms of skin cancer:

Kaposi sarcoma.

This is rare and often related to HIV/AIDS in that it appears in cases of full blown AIDS in advanced stages. However, it can also happen among organ transplant patients.

This cancer does not start in the skin, but in the blood vessels underneath.

Bruise-like discolorations of purple or red show in the skin and around mucous membranes.

Merkel cell carcinoma.

This is also rare. Shiny, firm nodules appear beneath the skin or on top of the skin and even in the hair follicles. They can be blue, pink, or red; small or over 2 inches in diameter.

It grows and spreads very quickly, often found first where the sun has exposed the skin - especially head, neck, face, arms, and limbs.

Think about driving with your left arm propped on the open window and getting full sun...and about going out in sun without a hat. These are risk factors.

Sebaceous gland carcinoma.

This is not so rare, but still uncommon. It is virulent, beginning in the skin's glands and spreading like wildfire. Hard nodules appear and do not hurt, but are deadly,. They are often seen on the eyelids.

It is likely a good idea to have regular skin checkups along with regular medical checkups at your personal physician's office, city or county health clinic, or even at mini-clinics located in drug stores and supermarkets. Health Fairs sometimes provide a first-step skin screening free-of-charge as well.

Comments & Experiences

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      That is incredible and interesting information, and thanks for sharing it with us. I hope you continue to improve in health.

    • profile image

      DANIEL NORMAN HARRIS 4 years ago

      I have recently had nine warts removed after having two Basal Cell Carcinomas removed. In spite of two showers and a Spa Bath before leaving the Sauna I was asked to leave two pubs due to an experience of body odour by other persons. I have had skin cancers removed without getting into this trouble but warts sprayed with liquid nitrogen exude slime for a long time further on so you don't want to shake hands.

    • profile image

      mcals71 5 years ago

      Cancer has taken my hubby and my dad, so I had to read this hub and found it very interesting and informative. I knew about dogs being able to do that, but not humans. Thanks for sharing. I learned something new today.

    • profile image

      cancerguru 5 years ago from Kentucky

      A great hub with excellent descriptions and new information about smell. Thanks for Hub.

    • dusy7969 profile image

      dusy7969 6 years ago from San Diego, California

      Great and wonderful hub.An excellent article which is well and properly tools with lots of information which is so enriched with experiences.Thanks a lot for this Sharing.

    • Ez Kay profile image

      Ez Kay 6 years ago

      Great and wonderful article which is published by one of the experienced writers on hub pages. Thanks for sharing this piece of info.

    • sunchild28 profile image

      sunchild28 6 years ago from Nigeria

      Great hub you have in here patty,which properly researched on and provided the necessary information.

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 6 years ago from Houston TX

      An excellent article which is well and properly equipped with lots of information which is so enriched with experiences.

    • goprisca profile image

      goprisca 6 years ago from Bangalore

      Very informative and useful Hub

    • mesotheliomatips profile image

      mesotheliomatips 7 years ago from California,USA

      Thank you, patty, for your good advice.

    • profile image

      joe 7 years ago

      There is a group of people that seem to have a condition that bystanders can sense. It does sound a bit far fetched, but some bystanders will have a sort of allergic reaction to them. Sneezing, coughing, runny nose or tearing eyes. I know, because some people have this reaction to me!! This group calls themselves "People are Alergic To Me" (PATM) for short. No Joke....

      The troubling thing is that I was diagnosed with Melanoma last week, and I have no idea how far it has gone yet.

      I am wondring if this could be a sign that I have a more advanced stage cancer?

    • profile image

      Sneezy123 7 years ago

      There is a group of people that seem to have a condition that bystanders can sense. It does sound a bit far fetched, but some bystanders will have a sort of allergic reaction to them. Sneezing, coughing, runny nose or tearing eyes. I know, because some people have this reaction to me!! This group calls themselves "People are Alergic To Me" (PATM) for short. No Joke....

      The troubling thing is that I was diagnosed with Melanoma last week, and I have no idea how far it has gone yet.

      I am wondring if this could be a sign that I have a more advanced stage cancer?

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I can smell cancer too.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      Have heard of detecting skin cancers by odor, but the info sebaceous gland carcinoma is new and important. Thank you very much.

    • praveenamuthu profile image

      praveenamuthu 7 years ago

      Very interesting and informative hub.

    • profile image

      Debbie 8 years ago

      I will do that and keep you posted.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      I think that some people CAN smell cancer and that you should contact the nearest university research hospital and talk to them about it. They can use your help and find out how many others can smell as you do.

    • profile image

      Debbie 8 years ago

      I have discovered either I am crazy or I have the ability to smell cancer. Not sure how to possibly put this to good use, as it is not a very approachable subject. I am a hair stylist and have experienced, more than once, the 'smell' on my clients. It smells like fritos corn chips. Some clients have had their cancer 'removed' and the smell is gone for a time. And when the smell comes back it turns out so had the cancer. I have experienced the smell of a cancer patient in late stages and that is a totally different smell to me. So far I have heard about dogs smelling cancer, and wondering if some people may have the "gift" as well.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      Thanks for reading and commenting! This phenomenon can be used to good advantage n future.

    • perfumelover profile image

      perfumelover 8 years ago

      this is very intriguing! i've heard about animals sensing cancer via smell, mentioned in some BBC articles (tabloid-like, if you ask me) a few years ago. it's very cool to hear about this again! great referencing on your hub. think with a topic like this, that kind of attention to detail is essential. great work!

    • profile image

      myislam 8 years ago

      you did a virtue by making this post.

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 8 years ago

      Interesting hub.

    • Automotive Gps profile image

      Automotive Gps 9 years ago from USA

      Interesting hub.

      I don't know before about smelling skin cancer.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      viralprospector - Thanks for your insigts; I did not know about the Aldara. I do so hope and pray that you have health and long life. You're an inspiration,

      I have seen a lot of commentary since writing this Hub about dogs smelling cancer, so it may be true and they are likely more sensitve than humnans and some devices in sense of smell, just as they can hear sounds humans cannot.

      It is true that we must keepo our yes peeled for changes.

      Thanks to eveyone for their brillilant comments and insights!

    • C.S.Alexis profile image

      C.S.Alexis 9 years ago from NW Indiana

      I also saw a TV show about dogs and research on this subject. Found it interesting and good to see that research is being done on the subject. Thanks for sharing with details. Good Article. C.S. Alexis

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 9 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      The possibility of smelling skin cancer is interesting, but the key point for all of us is that we should keep an eye on our skin for changes.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 9 years ago from India

      I watched a programme recently on Animal Planet - the same one, probably? Wouldn't it be great if dogs were trained specially for this so that cancer can be detected in the very early stages?

    • profile image

      Vivek Khandelwal  9 years ago

      I heard once..Dogs have the ability to smell Skin Cancer..

      Is that right ?

      Saw it on discovery i guess..

    • viralprospector profile image

      viralprospector 9 years ago from DFW Texas


      I can comment on skin cancer since I am currently treating a lot of basal cell skin cnacer now. I have had about 80 stitches this summer that could have been much less a problem if I would have handled this quickly as you wisely suggest here.

      There is a chemo therapy cream, called Aldara, that has worked wonders for me, but it is again a bad situation that I should have handled years ago. It saved me another 100 stitches or so, I'd guess. It seemed like somehting like a mosquito bite, and the open wound is about 3X2 inches.

      As to smelling it, that is interesting. Thanks for the good research and comments.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      Thanks Storyterrerus! - The new methods of detection are making it ever so much more likely to find the cancer and treat it early. It's encouraging!

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      As busy as I am, I had to read this Hub! Thanks for letting us know we should pay attention.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      I thnk very few humans can do anything like this and I am glad I was able to see it and hear about it. The idea for using dogs is a great one! I had nt heard that, but know that animals can often sense disease in humans. What a world! :)

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 9 years ago from Portugal

      Great hub Patty, such important information should be spread all over (I try to stumble it but I wasn´t allowed). Maybe this way this kind of techniques could be use by many more physicians around the world.

      I heard somewhere that it was possible to detect some types of cancer with the help of dogs who would smell those chemicals which indicate the presence of the disease. But I never thought it was possible that human could smell it.