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Dogs Trained To Sniff Out Ovarian Cancer

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the as-long-as-the-dogs-aren't-menacing dept.

Biotech 83

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Dogs have been trained to sniff out drugs, explosives, cadavers, mobile phones, firearms, and money but now AP reports that researchers have started training canines to sniff out the signature compound that indicates the presence of ovarian cancer. If the animals can isolate the chemical marker, scientists at the nearby Monell Chemical Senses Center will work to create an electronic sensor to identify the same odorant. "Because if the dogs can do it, then the question is, Can our analytical instrumentation do it? We think we can," says organic chemist George Preti. More than 20,000 Americans are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. When it's caught early, women have a five-year survival rate of 90 percent. But because of its generic symptoms — weight gain, bloating or constipation — the disease is more often caught late."

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83 comments

sorry (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540207)

LOL

Re:sorry (0)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about 8 months ago | (#44540239)

We should train those dogs to vote, and use them to replace Congress, too.
I'll bet the dogs are about as literate, and will read the legislation with equal effect.

I Remember This, On Cable, In The 70's. (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 8 months ago | (#44542123)

It's not as graphic as you might imagine, but the scene still got cut in the US version.

Franco or D'Amato, I'm thinking, but I'm not really sure...

Re:sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44542407)

Just a bitch sniffing another bitch.

Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540249)

Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog. While any breed will do, one who's head is about waist height and who's nose is not too messy is preferred. Top dollar will be paid for obsessive-compulsive sniffers.

Re:Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog (3, Funny)

glueball (232492) | about 8 months ago | (#44541081)

Dog will work in the lab. After positive patient finding, send patient to cat scan.

Re:Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 8 months ago | (#44541259)

After positive patient finding, send patient to cat scan.

What's the cat going to do?

Re:Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog (1)

glueball (232492) | about 8 months ago | (#44541567)

I will diagram the multiple puns:
The dog is what we are talking about.
The lab, a type of dog, is also a department you will find in a hospital.

If you have a positive medical finding of most anything in a hospital, and possibly from a lab, a physician will send you to a CAT scanner (computer aided tomography).

A cat is also a type of pet, much like a dog only without a soul. A side note is that a pet is also a type of scan, also known as a Positron Emission Tomography scan.

So in a short pair of sentences I was able to make fun of the dog, a lab, a CAT scanner and a cat and tie them with a thread of relevancy.

It was not that funny.

Re:Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44562217)

Glueball, camperdave already knew what you were talking about. You killed your own joke by explaining it, when you didn't even have to. You went from looking clever to looking stupid.

Re:Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44541581)

run in a spiral around the person, looking through her with its x ray eyes.

Re:Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44542319)

As someone who lost his wife to ovarian cancer less than a year ago, I'm glad there are people who can find humor in this story. The truth is because there are no reliable screening tests for ovarian and other gynicological cancers very few women are diagnosed earlier than stage IIIC which is just short of terminal. The real key is diaganosing before it has spread to the abdominal wall because then it is essentially incurable. My wife was given about 3 months without treatment, but with modern treatments she got to see our grand-children grow for 5 more years. She was one of the 30% who live that long and I consider myself very lucky to have her those extra years. Until they get better screening tests ovarian cancer is a death sentence. By the way she wasn't an old lady and fought her disease as long as she could. The problem with these cancers is the tumors eventually develope a resistance to the drugs and they stop working. There are labs working to figure that one out also.
I do realize the image of a dog going around sniffing women could be funny to some people, but I do wish there had been such a creature in the early stages of my wife's disease and we could have found it before it had spread over several organs in her body.

Re:Wanted: Annoying crotch sniffing dog (2)

FuegoFuerte (247200) | about 8 months ago | (#44545989)

Mr. Anonymous, sorry about your loss - such things are never easy.

I hope you're not overly offended by those of us who make light of the image of crotch-sniffing dogs in women's clinics. I'm not sure of the person who made the "Wanted:" comment above, but for many people (myself included) humor is simply a way of dealing with the unpleasant and often painful realities of life. So, it's not an attempt to be dismissive of the pain and overall nastiness of the disease, but more coping mechanism. At least for some. Others truly are just insensitive clods.

Bad metric (5, Insightful)

Grantbridge (1377621) | about 8 months ago | (#44540253)

"When it's caught early, women have a five-year survival rate of 90 percent" - this is true for nearly all cancers even if there is no treatment. The fire-year survival rate depends MOSTLY on when you diagnose someone. And if you have a high false-positive in your diagnosis then you get a really big boost to the five-year survival rate. Screening programs boost the metric, but they don't necessarily boost actual survival, as the fire-year time starts from diagnosis.

Re:Bad metric (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540305)

yeah, many cancers take longer than 5 years to kill you (assuming from the very start of the cancer).

Re:Bad metric (3, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | about 8 months ago | (#44540351)

It usually takes a lifetime to kill you.

Re:Bad metric (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44542333)

Yeah, yeah, and life is the ultimate cancer with a 100% mortality rate (though there was a single incident of non-fatal death reported in the middle east, but details are spotty and documentation is highly biased).

Re:Bad metric (3, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#44540363)

And if you have a high false-positive in your diagnosis then you get a really big boost to the five-year survival rate.

Hmm, are you sure that this is relevant? I would have thought that after getting a positive on a screening test, what you eventually do (perhaps after using one or more other screening methods) is a biopsy. As in, putting the stuff under the microscope being the reference diagnostic method for neoplastic tissue changes and all that jazz. I'd assume that when giving the five-year survival rate, you only consider patients with definitive diagnoses with false positives having been already excluded.

Re:Bad metric (4, Informative)

Grantbridge (1377621) | about 8 months ago | (#44540395)

Well it depends on the cancer, I don't know about for Ovarian in particular, but for prostate you often find cancerous tissue, but it is so slow growing it wouldn't be a threat unless you lived to be over 100, and as such the side effects of treatment are much worse than the cancer would have been. These sorts of slow growing non-threatening cancers wouldn't ever produce symptoms, and so wouldn't be diagnosed without a screening programme.

Re:Bad metric (4, Informative)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 8 months ago | (#44540537)

Well it depends on the cancer, I don't know about for Ovarian in particular, but for prostate you often find cancerous tissue, but it is so slow growing it wouldn't be a threat unless you lived to be over 100, and as such the side effects of treatment are much worse than the cancer would have been. These sorts of slow growing non-threatening cancers wouldn't ever produce symptoms, and so wouldn't be diagnosed without a screening programme.

That is true with prostate cancer, but not ovarian cancer. Besides in relation to the original post, finding cancer cells in one's prostate, even if slow growing would not be a false positive but an actual positive. But yes, if you are 80 and they find prostate cancer they may not do anything about it. If you are 60 and they find it, they aren't going to just let it go.

Re:Bad metric (1)

danceswithtrees (968154) | about 8 months ago | (#44542819)

That is true with prostate cancer, but not ovarian cancer.

I am leaning toward agreeing with you, but is this a true fact? I would guess this is a correct assumption given low incidence of coincidental ovarian cancers found in autopsy series, but until you actually study this question rigorously, it is still an assumption. Look at what is happening with prostate and breast cancer screening. If you had asked several decades ago, of course early detection would save lives. This is true but not for all types of breast cancer or prostate cancer. Granted ovarian cancer is not subtyped like breast cancers but perhaps there are subtleties that we are not yet aware of because there has been no good screen for early disease.

Re:Bad metric (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#44543039)

Look at what is happening with prostate and breast cancer screening. If you had asked several decades ago, of course early detection would save lives.

I think that early detection always saves at least some lives. But the problem is probably the "detection" part. A positive find in screening itself doesn't amount to successful detection.

Re:Bad metric (2)

danceswithtrees (968154) | about 8 months ago | (#44544225)

I think that early detection always saves at least some lives.

Another important consideration is at what cost? For example, you get a positive screening test. To get final detection, you need to undergo an invasive biopsy (such as a needle inserted into your anus for a prostate biopsy). If the biopsy shows cancer, you might get surgery to get it taken out. Surgical complications, including death. Hospital acquired infections, blood clots, etc. For prostate surgery, a significant risk of incontinence and impotence. So take 100 men with prostate cancer, couple have significant bleeds during biopsy, a couple die during surgery (these are usually older men with other health problems), a few pneumonias, a third leak urine, half have problems getting it up any more. Perhaps the surgery is only 30% effective at eradicating cancer even at the earlier stage. You have now actively killed a few people to save some in the future. Some you put through invasive procedures and surgery without improving their overall prognosis. Given that lead-time bias, these improvements can be very difficult to find-- you can no longer use historical controls because historical controls were not diagnosed the same way-- you therefore need to use a randomized trial.

The math may or may not work out depending on how good the screening tests are, how invasive the confirmatory tests are, how dangerous the surgery is, how EFFECTIVE is the surgery at preventing cancer related deaths, etc. These are the issues that doctors (and those who set public health policy) agonize over. That is why screening recommendations evolve over time.

Re:Bad metric (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 8 months ago | (#44544567)

Even at 60, you might well be better off letting prostate cancer just sit around unmolested. And this is the problem with a broad brush approach to false positives and screening programs. DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in situ) is the poster child [dcisredefined.org] for this problem. Some cancers are very aggressive (ovarian for one), others not (DCIS and most but not all prostate cancers). If you don't screen for less aggressive cancers and they aren't clinically apparent, your false negative rate goes sky high. If you screen for aggressive cancers then your five year survival rate is likely to change.

It is impossible to have a coherent discussion about screening for ALL cancers. You need to weight the risks and benefits for individual diseases. This makes it complicated. Fortunately, as time goes on, we are getting more nuanced about the word 'cancer'. Hopefully this correlates with better patient education and better treatment options.

Re:Bad metric (1)

jbengt (874751) | about 8 months ago | (#44540907)

These sorts of slow growing non-threatening cancers [prostate] wouldn't ever produce symptoms

Unless you consider having your sleep interrupted by getting up to urinate a several times a night without being able to produce much urine a symptom. Of course, that may happen before the prostate turns cancerous, but the point is, symptoms do develop over time with prostate cancer, and eventually, if you live long enough, it will probably kill you. There is a difference between a disease having obvious symptoms and it being an immediate threat to your life.

Re:Bad metric (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44541381)

It's not relevant. The story is about dogs used to sniff out cancer. The OP's comment it is a nitpick that has little to do with anything and is indicative of attention seeking behavior.

Re:Bad metric (5, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | about 8 months ago | (#44540387)

After a bit of Googling, it looks like this is called the "lead time bias" and is a rather significant issue with interpreting the benefits of a diagnostic test. That said, when 70% of sufferers aren't discovered until after metastasis, a better diagnostic method is desperately needed.

Re:Bad metric (5, Insightful)

blackest_k (761565) | about 8 months ago | (#44540441)

10-year relative survival ranges from 84.1% in stage IA to 10.4% in stage IIIC
  Survival rates based on SEER incidence and NCHS mortality statistics, as cited by the National Cancer Institute in SEER Stat Fact Sheets â" Cancer of the Ovary http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/ovary.html [cancer.gov]

In Laymans terms if Ovarian Cancer is caught early then treatment such as Surgery and Chemotherapy have a reasonable chance of keeping women alive for 10 years or more, diagnose later and the chances are she will die. Screening really is about the only method of catching treatable cancers at an early enough stage that they can be treated since if you don't look for it , it tends to be already at an untreatable stage when it is eventually discovered.
Obviously screening doesnt make the untreatable , treatable but it does save lives where early treatment can make a difference. It's not pointless which is what you appear to imply.

Re:Bad metric (0)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#44540445)

In Laymans terms if Ovarian Cancer is caught early then treatment such as Surgery and Chemotherapy have a reasonable chance of keeping women alive for 10 years or more

You better had your capitals biopsied to check if they're benign.

Re:Bad metric (1)

blackest_k (761565) | about 8 months ago | (#44540575)

You better had your capitals biopsied to check if they're benign.

I just use them on a case by case basis. What's your excuse for that monstrosity :)

but will 1A develop at all? (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about 8 months ago | (#44542425)

It will take some rather nasty inhumane test to figure out if cancers in stage 1A will in fact become mortal. There is a lot of speculation and I believe even testing on lab animals to figure out how much of "early detected" will in fact develop into something more threatening. From what I understand, a significant amount of breast cancer growths will essentially "kill themselves" after a while in certain types of breast cancer. How much of this applies to other sorts of cancers is something that we don't have a lot of knowledge about yet. Animal testing might give us a clue, but unfortunately (or luckily), doing double blind tests to see what exact sorts of human cancers in what stage will develop into something worse and how many will disappear isn't going to happen.

Mind you, I'm not saying that we shouldn't treat cancer if it's not developed, but I'm trying to explain that we don't know the true statistics of "survival" from early detection, since we don't know the rate of survival in untreated patients. Statistics can be extremely hard to use properly and this is one of the cases where I think those percentages are not proven accurate.

Re:Bad metric (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44542475)

This assumes that metastatic and indolent ovarian cancer are the same entity. In fact the flat line of ovarian cancer death rates notwithstanding increased 5 and 10 year survival rates suggests that this is not the case.

Re:Bad metric (1)

fuzznutz (789413) | about 8 months ago | (#44540997)

"When it's caught early, women have a five-year survival rate of 90 percent" - this is true for nearly all cancers even if there is no treatment.

Yeah, but now you get more time to worry about it before you croak.

Re:Bad metric (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44545853)

Not only that, but they left out the survival rates of Men!!!

Sniff alert (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540261)

Just when you thought visiting your gynecologist was less embarrassing.

Genitals (5, Funny)

Olix (812847) | about 8 months ago | (#44540269)

This is a pretty good idea as dogs like to smell genitals anyway. They should do it for testicular cancer too.

Re:Genitals (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540317)

They'll probably bite them off. But if you would rather have them lick it, you could use peanut butter.

Re:Genitals (1)

phorm (591458) | about 8 months ago | (#44541413)

Dog Owner: Don't be annoyed, he's not being rude. He's just checking your for ovarian cancer

An atempt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540291)

I am also trained to sniff that...so ladies please open your legs to me

I also sniff breast cancer... and lips cancer

Re: An atempt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540325)

I'll send you all of the fat, old or STD ridden women I can find for your sniffing pleasure. The dogs will be grateful.

Peanut butter works (-1, Redundant)

Nyder (754090) | about 8 months ago | (#44540353)

if you spread peanut butter on the genitals, they dogs will get more interested quicker.

Slow news day for agencies (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540371)

2012
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57553262/doctor-dogs-being-trained-to-sniff-out-ovarian-cancer/ [cbsnews.com]

2009 (Can Dogs Sniff Out Cancer?)
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-703845.html [cbsnews.com]

2006 (Dogs Excel In Cancer-Sniff Study)
http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500368_162-1204680.html [cbsnews.com]

every few years it pops up, but still nothing other than studies, perhaps its just a funding thing

Re:Slow news day for agencies (1)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 8 months ago | (#44541313)

wow somebody loves CBS news.

Re:Slow news day for agencies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44541441)

"wow somebody loves CBS news."

Hardly, he just can't afford cable.

Re:Slow news day for agencies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44541899)

Mom?

multiple benefits (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540439)

When it's caught early, women have a five-year survival rate of 90 percent.

and many of them report improvements in their sexual life as well.

Good idea, report before the experiment (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540493)

Because, when it doesn't work, there won't be any story in the news after the experiment.

Elephant Molded Fleshlight (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540543)

#!

Mobile Phones??! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540551)

I wonder what differentiates them from other electronics?

When asked for comment (2)

OzPeter (195038) | about 8 months ago | (#44540673)

A selection of cats said "Meh".

Re:When asked for comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540991)

In addition to the lab test you can also get a cat scan.

That figures (1)

tippe (1136385) | about 8 months ago | (#44540711)

They are experts at sniffing crotches, after all. It's only a matter of time before they can also sniff out bowel and prostate cancers too.

Wrong question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540813)

"Because if the dogs can do it, then the question is, Can our analytical instrumentation do it? We think we can," says organic chemist George Preti.

A more relevant question is, "If the dogs can do it, why don't doctors and hospitals employ more of these dogs to carry out this function and save lives TODAY?" In addition to the fact that dogs can do the job NOW, they require very little "salary" (compared to doctors or even nurses), and many of them can be trained to provide comfort to chemotherapy patients when they aren't busy sniffing out cancers.

Training vs. building (1)

DrYak (748999) | about 8 months ago | (#44542391)

A more relevant question is, "If the dogs can do it, why don't doctors and hospitals employ more of these dogs to carry out this function and save lives TODAY?"

Why? The short answer is: the number of hospitals and doctors' offices. That's why.

You're right that *maintaining* a dog doesn't cost much and isn't difficult. The difficulty lies in producing the dos.

Creating a dogs able to sniff the difference between a normal crotch and one with a hidden cancer in it takes training. Which is complex and long. That costs money and time. It's going to be pretty much difficult producing (training) enough dogs to cover the needs.
We're not speaking producing a few specialists dogs that the police or the FBI might use in a few specific operation against suspected drug dealers.
We're speaking about producing enough dogs to cover all the hospitals and doctors' offices to be used in routine screening.
That's not trivial to produce that much dogs. Simply put, the throughput of dog training centers isn't up to the task.

Whereas, once scientist have understood how to do it, e.g.: which peptide needs to be detected or whatever, reproducing the test doesn't require much resources. (just producing more of the necessary anti-bodies for the test or whatever). The capacity to build tests "en masse" is already out there, that's how its done for tons of other tests.

A way to see it your trading time/ressource of R&D vs. production.
The canine method has the advantage of very low R&D resources requirement (nature has already come up with dogs with a good sens of small. There's nothing much which needs to be invented actually) but high producing costs (you'll have to find a way to train that many dogs).
Whereas chemistry has a high R&D resources requirement (you need to discover makers and the best way to detect them) where are it has low productions requirement (fabrication of detection equipment is already scaled industrially).

Generic symptoms? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44540823)

From the summary: " But because of its generic symptoms — weight gain, bloating or constipation".

Those aren't generic symptoms on a healthy person. Yes, I know there are many bloated and overweight people out there, but that's already a condition you should do something about. Goddamn fatties, eat healthier, walk more. Notice cancers earlier because you don't just bloat and gain weight randomly.

Re:Generic symptoms? (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 8 months ago | (#44540899)

There are no "generic symptoms on a healthy person" because by definition a symptom is an abnormality associated with disease. Generic symptoms are merely those that are associated with many possible underlying conditions. Headaches, fatigue, and fever, for example, aren't particularly diagnostically useful.

Re:Generic symptoms? (2)

jbengt (874751) | about 8 months ago | (#44540955)

From the summary: " But because of its generic symptoms — weight gain, bloating or constipation". Those aren't generic symptoms on a healthy person.

I don't think you understand what generic means, at least not in this context.
Those are very generic symptoms, and healthy people, by definition, don't have symptoms.

Re:Generic symptoms? (2, Informative)

Aonghus142000 (908581) | about 8 months ago | (#44545011)

This is something I can speak to directly. My wife was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer 1 year ago this month. She is gone to intravenous chemo, surgery, and she is now on a yearlong oral chemo.

When she was diagnosed, what symptoms she had had shown up less than two weeks before. At the time, they consisted of cramping, constipation, and irritability. In other words, exactly the same symptoms she had exhibited once a month since puberty. By the time they found it, she had an 11 cm mass that had begun to metastasis into the abdominal wall. The symptoms themselves were actually caused by the 5 liters of fluid that had built up in her abdominal cavity.

As she is not of Eastern European Jewish descent and has no family history of cancer, there was absolutely no reason to suspect what was going on. Herein lies the problem with detection of this type of cancer, it just does not show any signs until it is well along. While I applaud the work in training canines to detect it, there is already a fairly accurate blood test to find ovarian cancer. For the canine route to be effective, pretty much every woman would have to be subjected to a crotch sniff from one of these canines.

One big problem (2, Flamebait)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 8 months ago | (#44540975)

But because of its generic symptoms â" weight gain, bloating or constipation â" the disease is more often caught late."

How are we supposed to tell the difference between the symptoms of ovarian cancer and the general appearance of large portions of the female population in the U.S.?

I have teh cancer! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44541067)

Dogs like to sniff my crotch :(

I think my dog's already trained for this... (2)

hyades1 (1149581) | about 8 months ago | (#44541193)

...based on where he tries to stick his nose every time a woman between 12 and 80 comes into the room.

Thats great but... (1)

JustNiz (692889) | about 8 months ago | (#44541283)

...why did they start out with a disease that can only affect 50% of the population?

Re:Thats great but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44541635)

there have long been dogs that can smell when a person's blood sugar is way off (aka diabetes alert dog)..

Re:Thats great but... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44542409)

'cause guys are kinda sensitive in that area when some animal butts its nose right THERE! It's hard to find willing test subjects.

Re:Thats great but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44549661)

Because unlike other cancers, catching it early enough to have *any* chance of saving the patient's life is still extremely difficult, it can involve exploratory major surgery even at that point, and it's not remotely uncommon. It's not like with other cancers, where the patient will get tell-tale symptoms (false urges to urinate, blinding headaches, low GI bleeding, etc.), go through chemo in stage 2 or 3 and have a chance of a happy ending -- if the patient doesn't get it caught during stage 1 (generic symptoms like "eh, I've felt kinda bloated lately") she's as good as dead.

What matters isn't which gender has it, it's what percentage of society gets and dies from it long before it's their time... Because as the guys above posting about their wives that are fighting or died of cancer will tell you, while women are the ones that die from it, it affects everyone that is close enough to be there while they fight it (suffering is a hard thing to watch a loved one do) and feel the loss deeply when the battle is lost...which it almost always is.

Wait.. sniff mobile phones? (1)

bjamesv (1528503) | about 8 months ago | (#44544501)

Am I the only one with raised eyebrows, from line 1 of the summary? Dogs can sniff out mobile phones - this is just an accepted factoid now? How do the differentiate between a phone and say an electric li-ion shaver in your bag?

Re:Wait.. sniff mobile phones? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44572393)

I don't keep electric lions in my bag.

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