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How to Detect Skin Cancer by Smell
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 http://www.sciencedaily.com /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, et.al. 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.
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 http://www.sciencedaily.com /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:
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.