New program aims to expand knowledge of human breast cancer through canine research

At the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, a new program is attempting to advance the knowledge of breast cancer in humans through research in canines.

Millie Edmonds wanted to adopt a dog, so she scoured the internet, looking for dogs in need of a home.

Edmonds discovered Cali, a dog rescued from a puppy mill where she spent her first year locked in a wire cage with other dogs.

"Their feet spread,” said Edmonds,”They looked like web-feet. Now she's got little paws."

It was love at first sight for Edmonds, even after she was told that Cali had twelve tumors in her mammary glands.

Karin Sorenmo, an oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, created the Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program to provide free care to give shelter dogs with tumors.

In the program, they collect canine tissue samples for scientists to compare with human ones.

Dogs have five pairs of mammary glands, and most dogs that develop a tumor in one gland, will likely have it spread to others.

The program allows researchers to study tumors in all stages of development.

“If we can figure out what happens when a tumor becomes malignant, what are the most important genetic alterations, maybe there will be a target that can be drugged," said Sorenmo.

Information gained from research could potentially help lead to treatments to stop the spread of the cancer cells.

Edmonds feels Cali is part of the family, as she herself is a two-time cancer survivor.

With a history of cancer in her family, she hopes that will stop before her granddaughters come of age.

"You need to take care of the four-legged people too,” says Sorenmo, “If helping them, helps us, all the better."

All dogs used in the trial came from shelters.

Research shows that dogs that are not spayed are at least four times more likely to get mammary tumors.

Only 10 percent of animals received into shelters have been spayed or neutered.

A female dog spayed before entering into her first heat cycle has only a .5 percent chance of developing a mammary tumor.

Research Summary:

CANCER IN CANINES: Out of all types of cancers affecting dogs, skin cancer is the most prevalent, occurring in 50% of reported cases. These can vary in shape and size, from the pea-sized granuloma to enormous lumps. Benign cysts, such as sebaceous cysts, appear as well. Mammary gland cancer is the second most common type, seen about 20% of the time. The remaining types include cancers of the alimentary system (10%), lymphatic system (10%), reproductive system (5%) and various others (5%). Bone tumors are more commonly seen in larger breeds, usually at the ends of the long bones in growth plates, but are also known to affect other areas such as the skull and the pelvis. These tumors are usually very malignant. Oral tumors also occur, and are also malignant. Unfortunately, these tumors aren't detected until they are in advanced stages, when bloody saliva and eating difficulties provide the first clues. Canine lymphoma is another commonly seen cancer in canines, occurring in two variations: multicentric (entire body) or specific (developing only in the alimentary, cutaneous and thymic glands). More rare are nasal tumors, which are harmful to the local area but don't spread rapidly, gut tumors, spleen tumors, and lung tumors. (SOURCE:

CAUSES OF CANINE CANCER: Veterinarians are still unsure of what exactly causes cancer in dogs, but a few risk factors are clearly present. Hormonal activity is linked to some cancers, as it is known to stimulate tumor growth in mammary and perianal tumors. Air pollution is another possible risk factor, as it has been linked to the development of tonsil and lung tumors. Skin cancer in canines is also environmental, believed to be caused by exposure to sunlight. Genetics also play a part, as osteosarcoma in dogs is believed to by the result of a cancer gene. Geopathic stress is another known risk factor. (SOURCE:

CANCER TREATMENT FOR DOGS: In the summer of 2009, the FDA approved the first drug treatment for canine cancer. The drug is called Palladia, and is used to treat canine cutaneous mast cell tumors, which grow on the animal's skin. Palladia works by first destroying the tumor cells and then preventing blood flow to the tumor cell area. Before this treatment was approved, veterinarians relied on human oncology drugs, which were not intended or tested for use on animals. (SOURCE: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

* For More Information, Contact:
Kelly Stratton
Director of Communication, University of Pennsylvania

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