Have you been sniffing at that strange mole or patch on your skin to see if you could smell something odd that might mean cancer?

Melanoma produces a distinctive odor that some dogs can detect. But can a person?

Imagine being able to sniff your moles to see which ones had cancer growing in them.

Unfortunately, it’ll never be this easy…

“Humans cannot smell skin cancer,” says Dr. Steven Musick, MD, a board certified dermatologist who runs Musick Dermatology, LLC, in Swansea, IL, which provides state-of-the-art medical and surgical care for all disorders of the skin, hair and nails.

“If we could, it would make my job as a dermatologist a lot easier!” continues Dr. Musick.

“Human sense of smell is not highly developed. It is completely inadequate at detecting skin cancer, unless it is a giant neglected cancer that becomes malodorous.”

The foul odor in this case would be due to an infection from long-time neglect, which can happen with basal cell carcinoma — the most common cancer in the world.

If left untreated, this very slow growing tumor will cause local destruction of tissue, including gaping holes that would be susceptible to bacterial growth.

Of course, something this gruesome could be bad enough for the human nose to detect.

Dr. Musick continues, “Rather than relying on smell, dermatologists use other methods of skin cancer detection.

“First, simply carefully looking at the skin with a trained eye (visual examination); second, utilization of a handheld tool called a dermatoscope (dermoscopic examination) and third, if the spot is concerning to the dermatologist it can be removed and sent for biopsy (pathologic examination).”

If your dog’s nose doesn’t seem to notice a suspicious looking mole that worries you, do not take this to mean that it’s probably not melanoma. Get it checked!

Steven Musick, MD

Steven Musick, MD

Since 2008 Musick Dermatology & Advanced Clinical Spa has been providing state-of-the-art medical and surgical care for all disorders of the skin, hair and nails.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: cancer.gov