A new cancer screening method available to Manatee County firefighters uses a low-tech approach to find the disease: man's best friend.

  • Manatee firefighters offered innovative cancer screening test
  • Screening test uses trained dogs to sniff out cancer cells
  • Firefighters wore a mask that captured cells from their breath
  • Mask will be sent to Canadian lab, where dogs will sniff them

During the past three days at Manatee Technical College, firefighters could stop by and participate in the screening.

The process is simple: Just put on a special mask for 10 minutes and answer a questionnaire.

Almost 200 firefighters who work and live in Manatee County participated.

Next week, the masks will be shipped to a laboratory in Canada, where they'll be sniffed by highly trained dogs.

"They put the mask into a vial, the dogs then sniff those vials, and as they sniff the vials, they can sniff the cancer cells," explained Willie Cirone, who organized the collection event.

The dogs can sniff even the slightest amount of cancer cells in a person's breath. It takes about eight weeks for the lab to process the results, before the firefighter would be alerted.

If traces of cancer cells are detected, the firefighter can work to prevent the onset.

"If we find it early enough, we may not need chemo, we may not need radiation. We can just change diets or do something else," Cirone said.

Cirone is hoping the screenings will catch on, and other fire departments will participate.