An estimated 6 million dogs and the same number of cats are diagnosed with cancer each year. But there is some encouraging news. Technology to help people with cancer is now helping prolong the life of our pets.
Shawn Hunsberger was surrounded by her true loves on her wedding day – her groom, Denny, and her Shih Tzu mix, Brooklyn.
"I just fell in love with him instantly," Hunsberger said.
Then, double heartbreak. She lost her husband to heart complications and, soon after, Brooklyn got sick.
"They found this massive mass in his heart," she said.
"Fifty percent of dogs and cats over the age of ten will be diagnosed with cancer," veterinary oncologist Dr. Stephanie Correa said.
Cancer treatments for people are now helping our pets.
"We can improve quality of life while still effectively prolonging the life of the patient," Correa said.
The Animal Cancer Care Clinic is using stereotactic radiosurgery technology that pinpoints the tumor, sparing healthy tissue.
"Direct the beam of radiation therapy at the tumor from all different angles," Correa said.
Typical radiation can take up to four weeks. But stereotactic therapy can be delivered over three days.
"Tumors like prostate cancer, brain tumors, lung tumors," Correa said.
Correa knows what it's like to have a pet with cancer. Her 12-year-old Labrador, Speed, had a brain tumor.
"We started the stereotactic radiation therapy that day," she said.
After three doses, Speed was back to his playful self.
"It sort of works over time to sort of continually shrink that tumor down," Correa said.
Brooklyn had the same treatment for the tumor on his heart.
"I want him around," Hunsberger said.
Hunsberger couldn't save her husband's life, but she was able to save Brooklyn's. Months later, the two are still making memories.
Correa says stereotactic radiosurgery is best for localized tumors that have not spread.
It can be costly – up to $8,500 dollars for three doses. Pet insurance may cover part of the cost.
DOCTOR, PLEASE SAVE MY PET!
BACKGROUND: An estimated 6 million dogs and nearly 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer this year. In many of these animals, the malignancy will look and behave much as it would in humans. While genetics and environmental factors can play a role in the disease's development, other variables such as toxins, radiation and tumor viruses, as well as hormones can also be responsible for causing several types of cancer. Dogs are affected by more forms of cancer compared to other companion animals. According to The Veterinary Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death in 47% of dogs, especially dogs over age ten, and 32% of cats. Dogs get cancer at about the same rate as humans, while cats get fewer cancers. Some breeds or families of dogs have a higher incidence for developing cancer at an earlier age, but in most cases it's a disease found in aging animals. Cancer in pets can be found in the skin, bones, breast, head & neck, lymph system, abdomen and testicles. Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in cats and lymphoma and mammary gland cancer are the most common type of dog cancers. (Source: https://fetchacure.org/resource-library/facts/)
THE MOST COMMON CANCER TREATMENTS: As veterinary medicine advances and better treatment technology is made available, pet cancer is now a treatable disease. Surgery is often the first line of treatment when localized cancer can be removed completely. Powerful drugs, such as chemotherapy, are used to destroy or damage cancer cells, particularly blood-cell cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia, and cancers that have spread or are likely to. It may be given orally (pills), intravenously, or directly into a tumor. Fortunately, dogs and cats generally tolerate chemotherapy much better than human patients. Utilizing sub-millimeter precision that is unprecedented in veterinary medicine, stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT) directly targets the tumor while mostly sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. It can even be used to treat some cancers previously considered untreatable in sensitive areas of the body such as the brain, spine or lungs. Conventionally fractionated radiation therapy (CFRT) uses targeted radiation to shrink or destroy cancers that cannot be safely or completely removed by surgery alone. And, cryotherapy is best suited for small, superficial tumors and is commonly used in areas such as the skin, eyelids, oral cavity, and peri-anal region. (Source: https://petcureoncology.com/making-a-treatment-decision/treatments/)
VACCINE FOR DOGS COULD HELP HUMANS: In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists at MU have teamed with ELIAS Animal Health to come up with a patient-specific, precision treatment for osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in dogs. The treatment involves creating a vaccine from a dog's own tumor that would avoid the toxic side effects of chemotherapy and also open the door for future human clinical trials. While bone cancer isn't common in humans, only about 800 to 900 new cases are reported each year in the U.S, it's a lot more common in dogs with more than 10,000 cases a year alone. The dogs in the study received only immunotherapy during the clinical trials, and no chemotherapy. Overall, the dogs receiving the vaccine had more than 400 days of remission which was an unprecedented result. This study marks the first time that dogs with osteosarcoma have experienced prolonged survival without receiving chemotherapy. Jeffrey Bryan, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM (Oncology), a professor of oncology at MU's College of Veterinary Medicine, director of the school's Comparative Oncology and Epigenetics Laboratory, and one of the study's lead researchers, says that the treatment uses the dog's own tumor cells as a vaccine to stimulate the immune system against mutated tumor proteins. This causes lymphocytes (immune cells) against these proteins to be generated. The approach will likely work for other types of tumors as well. (Source: http://www.aaha.org/blog/NewStat/post/2019/02/07/592567/Breakthrough-bone-cancer-vaccine-for-dogs-could-help-humans-too.aspx)