Monday, November 22, 2010

Cancer in Pets and People...Can the Similarities Provide a Cure?

- Cancer in Pets and People - Can the Similarities Provide a Cure?
- Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving!

Transcript of this week's episode of The Web-DVM:

Welcome my pet loving friends, to The Web-DVM. I am your host, Dr. Roger Welton, practicing veterinarian and Veterinary News Network Reporter.

When it comes to the dreaded diagnosis of cancer - we all dream of an eventual cure. Believe it or not, thanks to our canine friends, that dream may not be too far away.

Finding a cure for cancer is one of science’s most challenging and elusive goals. Thanks to our pets, and the fascinating work of a new breed of scientist, the comparative oncologist, some of the pieces of this complex puzzle are coming together.

The statistics about cancer in our pets are surprising. Estimates from the Morris Animal Foundation state that fifty percent of dogs will develop a cancer at some point in their lifetimes and half of those will die from the disease.
As you can imagine, these alarming statistics have gained the attention of many scientists because our dogs and cats often make good models for cancer research. The field of comparative oncology brings together veterinary oncologists, human medical oncologists, academic cancer research centers and the pharmaceutical industry.

At the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research, scientists say that because our pets share our environment and suffer from many naturally occurring cancers, they are probably good indicators of potential causes. In addition, there are many pet cancers that have similar or even identical biological characteristics as human cancers.

But beyond all of the objective data, the strong desire of pet owners to see their beloved dogs and cats live longer means that many new therapeutic options can be tried in order to save the pet. And, since more than 6 million dogs develop cancer each year, veterinarians and cancer researchers can evaluate these new therapies, refine them and potentially provide hope to both pet owners and to the families devastated by a cancer diagnosis.

Perhaps one of the most impressive advancements in comparative oncology is the development of a “canine cancer vaccine”. This novel treatment was recently granted full licensure and is now available for dogs suffering from one of the most common forms of cancer, canine malignant melanoma.

This cancer can be seen in any breed of dog and is highly aggressive. Cancer cells may start in the mouth, footpad or nail bed, but often spread out to affect other parts of the body. For most dogs, a diagnosis of canine malignant melanoma means the pet has just a few months to live, even with surgical treatment and chemotherapy doesn’t seem to help.

But, thanks to new research, the cancer vaccine (called ONCEPT®) is extending the lives of these dogs and giving hope to humans. Some studies for the vaccine showed that treated pets lived an additional three years after diagnosis.

ONCEPT® uses a human protein to stimulate the dog’s immune system into attacking the cancer cells. Since malignant melanomas have such a tendency to spread throughout the body, this type of treatment helps to find and destroy small cancer clusters even after the main tumor is surgically removed. After the initial set of four vaccines every two weeks, patients receive a “booster” vaccine every 6 months.
The implications of this type of therapy are, of course, amazing for our pets. But further, they could have far reaching positive consequences for human cancer patients as well. Research in comparative oncology is exciting and will no doubt uncover many new potential therapies.

That is my show for this evening. I will be taking next week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, but will be back with you in weeks. Remember to keep your pets away from turkey bones and out of the garbage. The holiday season from a veterinary standpoint is one of vomiting, diarrhea, and GI obstructions from cases of pet dietary indiscretion. May you and your pets have a peaceful and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.

Don't forget to catch my live call-in radio show Wednesdays 9PM EST. Listen via podcast live or archived here:

Blog Talk Radio

Dr. Roger Welton is the President and chief veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne Florida, as well as CEO of the veterinary advice and health management website


Michael O'Donoghue said...

I see the problem of cancer in pets all the time. And most people cannot bear the thought of doing chemo on their pets, even if they themsevles had been through chemo. A vaccine is very much needed. one interesting new idea I have seen is from Ecobiotics, using a new drug ecb-46, I hope the trial are successful

pw1974 said...

I actually had chemo done on one my my labradors. I have to admit, that the idea of having chemo on my dog was something that I was not at all comfortable with. But, with my vet assuring me that most dogs actually do not have adverse effects from the drugs, and that it could buy my lab 1-2 more years on this earth with me for the type of cancer he had (lymphoma), I went for it. I must say, I do not regret it for a second. While I dropped $3500 on the treatments altogether, my dog did fine with the drugs and the course lasted only 24 weeks, but it gave my dog an 18 month remission. I will always see those last 18 months with my boy one of the greatest gifts of my life, since I did not take one single day for granted.

Roger Welton, DVM said...

Dr. Michael,

Thank you for taking the time to post here. Would you care to elaborate on ecobiotics a bit more? I have not heard of it, and when I Googled it, I only got their website which is really just offers theoretical, not practical, information.

pw, lymphoma is a cancer that has been increasingly ammenable to treatment. So glad your experience was positive. With the advent of combining chemo with full body radiation, we are starting to see remissions of 3 years +. Thank you for sharingyou experience!

Angela said...

I love my dogs, but sorry, if one gets cancer, I do not believe in putting them though invasive and expensive treatments to keep them alive. We take things too far at times with sick people who at least understand why it is they are going through what they are going through...and still it may not be justifiable.

We have become a culture that clings to life at all costs, no matter the sacrifice, and now we are putting that paradigm on our pets, and that is wrong. Just my opinion, everybody has one...

Michael O'Donoghue said...

Ecb-46 is an experimental drug, developed from the plants of the north queensland rain forest. Only 1mg was needed to be injected into solid tumours, then the tumour disentergrated within weeks, last year clinical trials were performed in vet surgeries, there where some good results and some mixed results, the total results are still being gathered. it is not yet available for commercial use.

Roger Welton, DVM said...

Dr. Michael,

Thank you for the information. I plan to to look ino that further. I also plan to check out your blog as well. Please feel free to comment here as you like. Nice to have someone else in the industry offering feedback.

All the best,


Teri said...

In never considered cancer in pets in from the perspective of them being afflicted with the same types of cancers as people. It would make sense that they would be good models for research in the same cancers as people, especially as people want to do everything they can to save their pets. This is fascinating! Thanks, Doc! You need to have a show on the animal planet or something!

Dennis said...

I had a Golden Retriever that died of lymphoma, and another one that died of hemangiosarcoma. When I first got these dogs, I never once considered that they may get cancer, just like all us humans may get cancer. I also have lost relatives to cancer. Doing research for ways to prevent cancer find better ways to treat is in ALL of our best interests.

Anonymous said...

What a nice post. I really love reading these types or articles. I can?t wait to see what others have to say.

Peggy said...

Some people think that it is ridiculus to even consider treating cancer in pets. I wonder if they would feel the same after watching this and realizing that people choosing to have their pet's cancer treatment may help to improving the ability to treat it in people. This was definitely news to me, so I am sure many would be surprised by the interesting facts presented in this post.