Smelling Cancer?

  1. One of my nursing instructors told our class that she has acquired a smell for cancer, and when she walks in a room she can tell immediately if a patient has cancer.

    Do nurses typically "acquire" these intuitive smells after many years of nursing??
  2. Visit MikeyJ profile page

    About MikeyJ

    Joined: Jul '05; Posts: 1,134; Likes: 438
    Specialty: Peds, PICU, Home health, Dialysis


  3. by   nj1grlcrus
    dogs can smell it, so it could be true, but I doubt most humans have a sensitive enough sense of smell, one never knows though
  4. by   nursenpnk
    no you can not smell cancer, dogs can so i have heard, but you will learn different smells like c diff gi bleed ect but cancer hmmmm never heard that one before
  5. by   MS._Jen_RN
    Not sure about cancer, I'd tend to agree with the previous poster about that, but other smells are rather distinct and are, after some time to "learn them" easily identifiable to an experienced nose. Some things include antibiotic pee, C-diff poop, gangrene, pseudamonous (sp?), DKA breath.
    I'm sure someone could tell us others. Those are just the ones I'm "familiar" with. ~Jen
  6. by   MS._Jen_RN
    Forgot about GI bleed (how could I forget!) Yuk!
    very distinct to be sure.
  7. by   allantiques4me
    The more experience you have you might be able to distinct the odors from different afflictions.
  8. by   Anjann
    It's absolutely true! When I was in clinicals I discovered this ability to "smell" cancer, as well as sense it's presence in the body when I shook a patient's hand, but kept it to myself for fear that people would think I was crazy. But one day I did mention it to a clinical instructor, and she told me that she too had this ability.

    It is a very specific smell and you will know it when you run across it. I myself can sense it better than I smell it, and to me it is almost a sweet, pungent smell. I have also "seen" cancer in two patient before it was diagnosed by the doctor. Alot of times it's not really rocket science because they look so bad, but with these two people, it was not the expected diagnosis.

    It's just an instinct, I guess.
  9. by   dubstar
    I know that smell, I thought it was to either DKA or from ERF, both patients were terminal though.
  10. by   MelodyRNurse
    I thought I smelled this too, but I thought it was caused by medications because I have also been around patients with Ca that did not have the smell?
  11. by   Bluehair
    Yup, I can smell some cancers (not all, so not as good as the dogs! lol!).
    When I first started working as a nurse's aid prior to nursing school, there was an older night nurse who could smell it every single time. She would have the diagnosis down before the doc's had done the tests to diagnosis it. Not sure of her exact 'batting average', but I'm certain it was darn high. I have had a few similar experiences where I could smell it, blew it off as being wrong/silly, and the patient would be diagnosed some months later.
    Stranger than fiction...
  12. by   Bluehair
    As an aside, my husband can't smell dinner cooking half the time when I think the whole house smells like roast. Some people smell different scents better than others, so I suppose this could be the case here too.
  13. by   CametoitlateTexan
    I have a friend who was an OT in a nursing home. She had a dog that could smell "death." The director of the facility would have her bring the dog into the facility and visit the clients. Whenever the dog refused to be around a client, the director would know who was going to die soon. She said it worked every time.
  14. by   CRNI-ICU20
    OH...we nurses have very good smellers!
    Pseudomonas anyone?? How about the smell of a staph infection?
    ewwww! bleh!
    My former Anatomy and Physiology prof. had us all bring urine samples to lab one day, and WE SMELLED them as part of our training to 'diagnose' some things in a patient....a UTI has a very distinct smell when ECOLI is around...
    So, if your nursing instructor has a nose for cancer, that's not out of possibliity. Cadaver dogs have been trained for years to find dead people. My cousin trains these kinds of dogs, and her two top ones served at Ground Zero in NYC after 9-11. Her female laid down and put her paws over her face, because the smell of death was pervasive, and the dog could not 'hone in' on any one place....she nearly had a nervous breakdown over it and my cousin had to pull her out of the ranks for a few days until the dog could settle in....the male did better, but, unfortunately he died five years post 9-11 from the dust he inhaled into his lungs....(and the EPA still doesn't admit that 40,000 people are sick from this exposure!)....a little off subject....sorry...but, people and dogs were blessed with good smellers....and we use them well...wooohoo! What was that??? broccoli??? hehehehehe