Training dogs to detect cancer is a relatively new feat – but it’s growing in popularity.

The InSitu Foundation, which has trained dogs for researchers from UC Davis and Duke University, is now teaching its first class of student trainers. Students flew in to InSitu’s training center in Chico from hometowns as far away as Birmingham, Ala., Anchorage, Alaska and Helsinki, Finland.

The training process may be unfamiliar to the students, but cancer itself has touched the lives of many of the students. Cindy Roberts’ mother was 18 months into her fight with breast cancer when she received a diagnosis of lung cancer.

“She was diagnosed on a Tuesday, and we lost her the following Monday,” Roberts said.

Now, training cancer-detecting dogs has become Roberts’ mission.

“When I found out the program was available, I cried for about an hour. Because I knew this was something that everything in my life had pointed to this,” Roberts said. “If I can help another family get more time with their loved one than we had with my mom, all the training and money we put into this will be well worth it." InSitu’s course lasts six days and costs $4,500.

Other participants, like nurse-practitioner Dolly Lefever, are hoping to make a unique impact on their communities with trained dogs.

“As you know, in Alaska most people are flying in from villages. I think that this would be a good way to help people out in the bush to send in samples to be screened,” Lefever said.

While InSitu founder Dina Zaphiris has been a pioneer in the field, she says she doesn’t feel the threat of competition in teaching other trainers her methods.

“For me, I can only produce one research study a year or every three years. That's not enough research to take this to the next level. If we want this science to become standardized and to go to the next level, we need hundreds of replication studies from all over the world coming out every month,” Zaphiris said.