Archive for the ‘Cancer Research’ Category

National Canine Cancer Foundation to fund a new innovative Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) Research Project

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

I have some new exciting news. As you all know we are always trying to find an new edge in the battle against canine cancer. And Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is one of those cancers we would like to get a better handle on since it seems to end up being diagnosed too late to save the dog. In fact, we are so keen on finding out how to deal with HSA that we have actually initiated our own research project on HSA with G. Elizabeth Pluhar, D.V.M., Ph.D., and John Ohlfest, Ph.D. This is very exciting for the NCCF because this type of research on HSA has never been tried. Let me tell you how it all came about by first talking about a dog name Batman.

Batman was the first dog to undergo a breakthrough experimental treatment for brain cancer, led by doctors, G. Elizabeth Pluhar, D.V.M., Ph.D., and John Ohlfest, Ph.D. They developed a combination treatment plan for dogs with glioma, a very aggressive and relatively common form of brain cancer. First they removed the tumor surgically. Then, in some cases, they use local gene therapy to attract immune cells to destroy remaining tumor cells, and finally they created a personalized anti-cancer vaccine made from the dog’s own cancer cells to prevent tumor recurrence.

I personally love the thought of taking a cancer that was killing a dog and turning it into a personalized vaccine to kill the cancer!

Dr. Pluhar, a surgeon at the Veterinary Medical Center, and Dr. Ohlfest, head of the neurosurgery gene therapy program at the Masonic Cancer Center, gave Batman his initial treatment in August 2008. Batman led a normal life unaffected by his tumor until his death from cardiac failure in February 2010, there was no tumor recurrence. According to the Dean of the College, Trevor Ames, DVM, MS, “the far-reaching implications of this promising new treatment are almost difficult to fathom; not only could these treatments lead to a cure for brain and other systemic cancers in dogs, but because dogs and humans share many physiological traits, dogs could also be the missing link in the cure for brain cancer in humans.”

Then something interesting happened. Almost one year ago, Davis Hawn’s then 8-year-old yellow lab, Booster, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in his nasal sinus. Booster was given three weeks to live. Hawn did not want to accept the death sentence and began searching the country for a cure. His search led him to doctors in Florida who removed Booster’s tumor and gave him chemo. An online search then led him to Dr. Elizabeth Pluhar from the University of Minnesota’s canine brain tumor clinical program. Davis asked her to help his dog, but Dr. Pluhar had never made a vaccine for this type of cancer before. But Davis was not going to take no for an answer so she did agree to try. She shipped the vaccine off and ten months later Booster is cancer free.

Then after Davis contacted the NCCF to tell us about how well the vaccine works, we contacted Dr. Pluhar to ask if she would be willing to try the same research that was successful with brain cancer and skin cancer, and use the same protocol to try dealing with splenic HSA. The NCCF’s thinking is that with all these other cancers, the similarities were that the cancer had to be removed and a vaccine needed to be created from the cancer cells. With splenic HSA, one of the more common forms of HSA, the spleen is typically removed so we felt that Dr. Pluhar’s research could possibly work. With that in mind, we asked her if she could try and apply her protocol on splenic HSA. After doing some initial research she agreed to do the study based on reaching certain goals before going on to the next level.

First, she needs to insure that we can culture the cancer cells in the lab,

Second, she needs to insure that the tumor vaccines stimulate immune cells to attack tumor cells. If she can achieve these two steps she can go on to treat the HSA cancer. We could not be happier and are guardedly optimistic over this research project.

The cost for this project will be $55,500. I hope you are all as excited as we are about this research and will help fund the project. If you want to help with funding this new innovative NCCF’s initiated project please CLICK HERE or got to this link

Thank you

Gary D. Nice
President and Founder
National Canine Cancer Foundation

Team Its For The Dogs Continues to Take a Stand Against Canine Cancer!

Friday, September 19th, 2014

In 2008 Debra Roseman decided she needed a new hobby and on Thanksgiving Day she set out and hit the pavement for her first run. Several months later, and many miles later, her husband found an event online called “The Bruiser Memorial 5k” being held in October 2009. Knowing his wife’s love for dogs, he suggested she go to the race which benefited canine cancer research.

Deb did sign up for the race that day and having known friends who lost their dogs to cancer she even took a shot at fundraising for the event.  It was only a few weeks out so she was short on time, but was able to raise several thousand dollars.

Soon thereafter, several other friends of Deb lost their dogs to cancer.  One was Frank Heffelfinger.  He decided to join Deb at the Bruiser race in 2010 and from there blossomed a friendship between Deb and Frank that will be forever cemented through the love of dogs.  Deb and Frank fundraised separately and again raised several thousands of dollars.  At the end of the race the wheels began to turn… what could be done as a TEAM?  And so Team It’s For the Dogs was formed.  With the announcement of the team, new members wanted to be a part of this special journey.  The members changed a little throughout the new few years, but all members except two (Deb and Terry Travis) had shared a common bond.  All had lost at least one dog to cancer.

For 2011 the team hit the ground running and held agility fun runs, raffles, wrist band sales, and 50/50s to raise funds.  The support of the dog community was amazing and the drive of the team increased.  They dreamed BIG and drove HARD and fundraised BIG.  The team idea proved to be a huge success and it was decided they would continue to keep the hope alive.

2012 was to be a different year for Deb.  Early in January after feeding her 4 dogs breakfast, one collapsed at her feet.  Hannah was rushed to the ER but there was nothing that could be done for her.  Heart based hemangiosarcoma had claimed her life.  The loss of Hannah drove Deb to drive harder and to drive her team harder than ever.  The raffles became bigger.  The agility runs became more numerous.  Everything became bigger and better.  Unfortunately Deb’s experience with cancer was not to stop there.  In April 2013 she had to give her Elkhound the gift of no more suffering.  He had been diagnosed with nasal cancer a few months prior.    In addition to what had already been done in years past, Deb added an obedience match and an online auction to the mix of fundraising opportunities.  Driven now more than ever by the loss of two of her own beloved canine companions.

Over the years that Deb and Frank ran the race individually, combined with the three years of team fundraising, Team It’s For The Dogs has raised over $50,000 for canine cancer research.  Even though the Bruiser Memorial was retired, they made the decision to continue fighting as a team.  With the hope that someday that helpless feeling of a cancer diagnosis would be no more.  That HOPE for LIFE will prevail…

See the highlights from their very first event on their own. Which won’t be their last!

For the past three years, Team It’s For The Dogs has participated in The Bruiser Memorial 5k to raise funds for canine cancer research.  In conjunction with running the race and traditional fundraising, the team has run several types of events to raise money including memorial agility runs, raffles, online auctions, 50/50s and obedience matches.

While looking for even more ways to raise money for this cause that is so near and dear to all of our hearts, Paul Mount of PMCC Services LLC approached us with the idea of holding a UKI fundraising agility trial.   Given “The Bruiser” had retired after 5 very successful years leaving us without a “base” event, we decided to GO FOR IT!

In order to “go for it” however, we needed to keep expenses as low as possible.  We were very delighted to learn that Darryl Warren would DONATE his judging services and that K9Jym in Colmar, PA would DONATE the use of their facility to us!  Additionally, Paul also would be donating back a large portion of the entry fees.

We didn’t stop there though!  We looked for more ways we could raise funds at the trial and along with having a wonderful spread of amazing raffle prizes donated by ourselves and our various dog loving friends, we also offered “mulligan runs”.  If you wanted to run a course again for practice you could pay $5 at the gate and get training time in the ring.

Now that all of that was set, we all anxiously awaited for the big day, August 23, 2014.

The day arrived and it could not have been more perfect.  The trial was a big success and the raffle and mulligan runs were very well received.   After all was said and done, along with a few flat donations including a rather large personal donation from the trial secretary, we sat down and crunched the numbers and learned that we raised $3,100!  This money is being donated to the National Canine Cancer Foundation with a request it be used to help fund their Hemangiosarcoma Research Project.

Huge thank you to EVERYONE involved in this inaugural event… The exhibitors, the volunteers, our secretary Paul, Debb and Roy of K9Jym, and our judge Darryl.   We are looking forward to next year already!

Why are golden retrievers so susceptible to cancer: particularly lymphoma?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

We don’t yet know exactly why 60% of golden retrievers will get cancer. We know this is about twice the rate for other dogs and we know it is definitely genetic. What we don’t know yet is which specific genes are involved.

We also don’t know why golden retrievers from the U.S. are more likely to end up with a form of cancer called hemangiosarcoma. Or why golden retrievers from the U.K. are more likely to get lymphoma. (Genetics almost certainly explains most of this difference too.)

Undoubtedly we will one day know all of these things. Dogs within a single breed are so alike genetically that it should be possible to find the responsible gene(s). Unfortunately, this inbreeding is also why golden retrievers get cancer so often in the first place.

Of course inbreeding doesn’t always mean an increased risk for cancer. If that were the case, then all purebred dogs would have around the same cancer risk. They don’t. But most of them do have other breed-specific health problems related to their inbreeding.

For example, golden retrievers get cancer. German shepherds suffer hip problems. Bulldogs have skin problems. Dalmatians get kidney stones. And so on.

Poor thing has a 60% chance of getting cancer.

The particular health problems a purebred dog has depends on its selected traits and what disease genes its founding ancestors were unlucky enough to have. The last part is called the “founder effect” and it happens in people too.

Basically the founding dogs of the golden retriever breed happened to have genes that increased their risk for cancer. Since all golden retrievers come from these founders and no new genes are being added to the gene pool, the cancer causing genes are recycled over and over in the population. For now, cancer is trapped in the golden retriever gene pool.

Everyone has Disease Genes

It isn’t surprising that the ancestors of all golden retrievers had genes that increased their risk for getting cancer. Every animal (including dogs and people) have a few deadly genetic diseases lurking in their DNA. Two things keep us all from being riddled with those diseases though.

First, we tend to all have different sets of disease causing gene versions. And second, these diseases usually require that you get the bum gene from both mom and dad.

We are all carriers for 5-10 genetic diseases.

So to end up with a disease, both parents have to have a copy of the disease-causing gene version AND they both have to pass it down to you. This tends not to be very common unless the parents are related.

Related animals share more genes in common. This means that if they have kids, they are more likely to pass on many of the same gene versions including those that cause disease. The end result is increased risk for the diseases that run in that family.

This risk increases even more if the parents are very closely related. For example, if they are inbred for tens or hundreds of generations.

Golden retrievers, like every other pure breed of dogs, undoubtedly started from a small group of ancestors. Some of these dogs had a version of a gene that increased their risk for cancer. They passed this risk down to their pups. And down to every generation to the present day.

Since dog breeds started from so few ancestors such a short time ago, all dogs within a breed are essentially related. In nature this problem is usually solved by breeding outside of the family. But this isn’t possible if a dog is to remain a purebred.

Goldens with Less Cancer

As I hinted at in the previous section, an obvious answer to solving golden retrievers’ cancer problems is to stop the inbreeding. Simply breed golden retrievers with other dogs and in a few generations, the risk should drop down to normal levels. Of course then you’d lose some of the traits that people want in a golden retriever.

Another possibility is to find the gene involved, find golden retrievers that lack the gene version that increases their cancer risk, and breed only those dogs lacking the problem gene. The new golden retriever breed would then only have the usual 33% chance of getting cancer.

This sounds great in theory but may not be possible in practice. First off, it may be that golden retrievers all have two copies of the gene version that increases their risk for cancer. If this is the case, then it may not be easy to find any golden retrievers that don’t have the trouble gene.

A second reason is that the disease version of the gene might be involved in some trait that makes a golden retriever a golden retriever (think golden coat). If this is the case, then if you breed out the disease, you end up with a dog that isn’t a golden retriever anymore.

These issues sound theoretical, but they aren’t. Something very similar happened with Dalmatians.

Dalmatians are especially prone to kidney stones instead of cancer. Researchers found that all Dalmatians had two copies of the version of the gene that led to kidney stones meaning there was no easy way to breed it away.

It isn't possible to separate spots from kidney stones.

Breeders tried to engineer a Dalmatian without the kidney stone version of the gene by breeding them with the closely related Pointer. Eventually, through lots of breeding back with Dalmations, they got a dog that looked very much like a Dalmatian that didn’t suffer from kidney stones. Except that its spots were never quite right.

Further study showed that Dalmatian spotting depended on the version of the gene that led to kidney stones. Get rid of kidney stones and you don’t have a true Dalmatian anymore. If something similar is happening in golden retrievers, it may not be possible to make a golden retriever less cancer prone.

What this all means is that even if breeders find the responsible gene, they may not be able to do anything about golden retrievers’ increased cancer risk if they want to keep the golden retriever breed as is. Luckily for the dogs, having a gene version that increases your risk for cancer does not mean you will for sure get cancer.

Cancer Genes

For the most part, people and dogs do not inherit genes that cause cancer. Instead they get genes that make them more likely to develop the disease.

What this means is that even if a dog inherits a gene like this, it won’t get cancer for sure. And a pet owner may be able to make getting the cancer less likely by controlling the animal’s environment.

Cancer starts when a gene goes haywire and causes a cell to grow when it shouldn’t (or to not die when it should). The gene goes bad because it gets damaged or mutated.

We can't avoid some damage to our DNA.

This mutation can come from the environment. That’s why sunlight and certain chemicals can cause cancer. So if an owner keeps a dog away from harmful chemicals and other mutagens, it can decrease the dog’s chances for cancer. But it won’t eliminate them.

Mutations can also happen by accident when our cells are dividing. Each time a cell divides, it has to copy its DNA. Cells are very good at copying their DNA, but they aren’t perfect. The occasional mistake slips through.

If that mistake is in a gene that controls growth, then the cell will grow uncontrollably. But this is usually only a problem if the mistake happens in both copies of a dog’s (or person’s) genes.

Animals that are at an increased risk for cancer often have one of their growth genes pre-mutated. This means they need just one mutation to end up with cancer. This is why they tend to get cancer both more often and at a younger age.

So even if golden retrievers end up with the “bad” version of the gene, they won’t get cancer for sure. They’ll just be at an increased risk.

Article reposted from:

Written by: Dr. D. Barry Starr, Stanford University

Compound Derived From a Mushroom Lengthens Survival Time in Dogs with Cancer

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Dogs with hemangiosarcoma that were treated with a compound derived from the Coriolus versicolor mushroom had the longest survival times ever reported for dogs with the disease. These promising findings offer hope that the compound may one day offer cancer patients – human and canine alike – a viable alternative or complementary treatment to traditional chemotherapies.

The study was conducted by two University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine faculty. Dorothy Cimino Brown is professor and chair of the Department of Clinical Studies and director of the Veterinary Clinical Investigation Center. Jennifer Reetz is an attending radiologist in the Department of Clinical Studies. They published their findings in an open-access article in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The Coriolus versicolor mushroom, known commonly as the Yunzhi mushroom, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. The compound in the mushroom that is believed to have immune-boosting properties is polysaccharopeptide, or PSP. In the last two decades, some studies have suggested that PSP also has a tumor-fighting effect.

“There have been a series of studies looking at groups of people with cancer,” Cimino Brown said. “The issue with those studies is that they weren’t necessarily measuring what most people would think is the most clinically important result, which is, do people taking PSP live longer?”

To address this critical question, Cimino Brown and Reetz pursued a study in dogs with naturally occurring hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive, invasive cancer that arises from the blood cells and typically affects the spleen. It commonly strikes golden retrievers and German shepherds.

Fifteen dogs that had been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma participated in the trial. Divided into three groups of five, each group received a different dose – 25, 50 or 100 mg/kg/day — of I’m-Yunity, a formulation of PSP that has been tested for consistency and good manufacturing processes.

The owners were instructed to give their dog capsules of I’m-Yunity, compounded by Penn pharmacists, daily. Each month, the owners brought their dogs to Penn’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital for follow-up visits. There, the researchers took blood samples and conducted ultrasounds to determine the extent that tumors developed or grew and spread in the dogs’ bodies.

Based on the ultimate endpoints – how quickly the tumors progressed and how long the dogs actually lived — the results of the researchers’ trial suggest that the I’m-Yunity was effectively fighting the tumors.

“We were shocked,” Cimino Brown said. “Prior to this, the longest reported median survival time of dogs with hemangiosarcoma of the spleen that underwent no further treatment was 86 days. We had dogs that lived beyond a year with nothing other than this mushroom as treatment.”

There were not statistically significant differences in survival between the three dosage groups, though the median survival time was highest in the 100 mg group, at 199 days, eclipsing the previously reported median survival time.

The results were so surprising, in fact, that the researchers asked Penn Vet pathologists to recheck the dogs’ tissue biopsies to make sure that the dogs really had the disease.

“They reread the samples and said, yes, it’s really hemangiosarcoma,” Cimino Brown said.

Chemotherapy is available for treating hemangiosarcoma, but many owners opt not to pursue that treatment once their dog is diagnosed.

“It doesn’t hugely increase survival, it’s expensive and it means a lot of back and forth to the vet for the dog,” Cimino Brown said. “So you have to figure in quality of life.”

While I’m-Yunity is not inexpensive, if proven effective, it would offer owners a way of extending their pet’s life without regular trips to the vet. As an added benefit, Cimino Brown and Reetz have found no evidence of adverse effects from the PSP treatment.

The researchers are now getting ready to pursue further trials of I’m-Yunity in dogs with hemangiosarcoma to confirm and refine their results. One trial will compare I’m-Yunity to a placebo for those owners who opt not to pursue chemotherapy in their pet and another will compare the compound to standard-of-care chemotherapy.

Depending on those results, veterinarians could eventually prescribe the compound for treating hemangiosarcoma, and perhaps other cancers, in dogs. The company that manufacturers I’m-Yunity may also pursue large-scale clinical trials in humans.

“Although hemangiosarcoma is a very sad and devastating disease,” Cimino Brown said, “in the long term, if we prove that this works, this treatment can be a really nice alternative for owners to have increased quality time with their pet at the end of its life.”

News reposted from:

My Dog Has Cancer: What Do I Need to Know?

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Any pet owner who has been told their animal has cancer knows the two emotions: anxiety for the beloved pet’s life, and hope for an effective treatment.

“Many people consider their dogs and cats members of the family,” says Food and Drug Administration veterinarian Lisa Troutman. “Just as FDA reviews drugs for humans for safety and effectiveness before they can go on the market, the agency does the same for treatments for animals.”

Take, for instance, cancer, which accounts for almost half of the deaths of pets over 10 years of age. Although pets of any age can have cancer, the longer they live, the greater the likelihood of developing it. Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans.

“Pets are living longer because of preventative health care. And we’re able to diagnose cancers earlier. As a result there is an increased need for better cancer treatments,” Troutman notes.

Until very recently, the only drugs available to treat cancer in animals were those approved for use in humans. But in the last few years, veterinary drug sponsors (the pharmaceutical companies developing the drugs) have brought to market treatments meant specifically for animals.

Troutman explains that “FDA works closely with these companies to discuss how they can demonstrate that their innovative veterinary drugs are safe and effective, and to address questions that arise during the development process.”

FDA Evaluates Safety and Effectiveness of Medicines

To evaluate the safety of any new veterinary drug, companies typically conduct a study in a small number of healthy animals in the same species that the drug is intended for (for example, if the drug is for dogs, it will be tried first in healthy dogs). The findings help the veterinarian anticipate potential side effects when the drug is used to treat a patient and help minimize adverse events that might affect the pet’s quality of life.

Companies also must show in controlled studies that the drug works—that it is effective when used according to the label. For example, for a drug intended for a particular kind of cancer, companies typically run a clinical trial at multiple animal hospitals where pets are being treated for that cancer. In these studies, the patients may receive either the drug being studied or a control. Although the owners and veterinarians are aware that their pets and patients could receive either the experimental drug or the control — a placebo — they don’t know which treatment they actually get. In either case, owners have the option to drop out of a study at any time.

When the goal is to treat a form of cancer that affects smaller numbers of animals, drug companies can use a pathway called conditional approval to bring drug treatments to market more quickly. Conditional approval allows a company to make its drug available to patients after proving the drug fully meets the FDA standard for safety, and showing that there is a reasonable expectation that the treatment is effective.

“Often small exploratory studies are conducted to support a reasonable expectation of effectiveness,” Troutman says.

Conditional approvals have both pros and cons. On the plus side, they allow sponsors to provide patients quicker access to innovative treatments without waiting for the development of evidence of effectiveness that would satisfy the requirement for a full approval.

“On the other hand, because the studies used to support a reasonable expectation of effectiveness are small, the drugs may not turn out to be effective when they are used in greater numbers of animals,” Troutman says.

FDA may allow, through annual renewals, the conditionally-approved products to stay on the market for up to five years while the company collects the required effectiveness data to support a new animal drug application for full approval. Conditional approval automatically expires at the end of five years and the drug is removed from the market if the company has not fully demonstrated that the drug is effective.

FDA-Approved Drugs for Cancer in Dogs

Troutman says that sponsors are continuing to develop innovative treatments for different types of cancer in dogs.

“We’re looking at therapies that are more targeted now,” she says. Scientists are identifying proteins or other substances unique to cancer cells and developing treatments that target those substances without harming healthy cells.

FDA has approved three drugs, two of them conditionally, to treat cancer in dogs:

  • Palladia (toceranib phosphate), for the treatment of mast cell tumors, was approved in 2009;
  • Kinavet-CA1 (masitinib mesylate), for the treatment of mast cell tumors, was conditionally approved in 2010; and
  • Paccal Vet-CA1 (paclitaxel for injection), for the treatment of mammary carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, was conditionally approved in 2014.

To date, there are no FDA-approved treatments for cancer in cats. Most cancer treatments for dogs and cats use drugs that FDA has approved for use in humans.

What are the Warning Signs?

The warning signs of cancer in dogs are similar to those in people, Troutman says: a lump or bump, a wound that doesn’t heal, any kind of swelling, abnormal bleeding. But generally, a pet owner should keep an eye out for what Troutman calls “the basics —changes in the normal functions of eating, drinking, peeing, pooping and sleeping —and contact their veterinarian if they have concerns.

“Emotional state, such as being withdrawn and irritable, can be another sign,” she says.

Both general veterinary practitioners and veterinary oncologists, as well as other specialists, treat cancer in cats and dogs. In general, veterinary practitioners work with veterinary oncologists to provide the diagnosis and the follow-up care for the pet during treatment, which may include blood work and imaging (such as x-rays or ultrasound examinations) to monitor the animal’s progress.

There’s a fundamental difference between treating cancer in pets versus people. “Side effects from cancer treatment are usually fewer than those seen in people, and veterinarians work very hard to manage those side effects and maintain quality of life,” Troutman says. “There are even drugs that have been brought to market with the intent of managing common side effects, like vomiting.”

Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian

Questions that pet owners may want to ask their veterinarian and veterinary oncologist when their pet has been diagnosed with cancer include:

  • What treatments are available?
  • What is the prognosis with each treatment?
  • What are the side effects of each treatment and how will they affect my pet’s quality of life?
  • How long will I need to treat my pet?
  • What is the cost of each treatment?
  • How many visits back to the veterinarian are needed?

Pet owners who want to investigate clinical trials for their animal can use the Veterinary Cancer Society’s searchable database at

Article reposted from:

Global snapshot of infectious canine cancer shows how to control the disease

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Research published in BMC Veterinary Research could assist veterinarians and policy-makers in the future. In this guest post, Andrea Strakova describes the history and distribution of canine cancer, an infectious disease that not only infects ‘man’s best friend’ but threatens the existence of the Tasmanian devil. In Fighting a contagious cancer, Fellow researcher, Elizabeth Murchison, speaks about the fight to save the Taz.

Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumor (CTVT) is a canine infectious disease that results in the appearance of tumors, usually associated with the external genitalia, in both male and female dogs. It is one of only two known naturally occurring clonally transmissible cancers, which are spread by the transfer of living cancer cells between individuals. CTVT is usually spread during mating, possibly facilitated by injuries incurred during coitus.

CTVT originally arose as a cancer in one dog that lived approximately 11,000 years ago and has since survived as a clonal lineage by transmitting through the dog population as an infectious disease. It is striking that since the emergence of this cancer in a single dog, its cells have efficiently colonized dog populations throughout the world. Although previous studies had indicated the broad distribution of CTVT, our current study has provided the most comprehensive information so far regarding the distribution of the disease.

To investigate the current global distribution of the disease, we performed a crowdsourcing study by soliciting CTVT information from veterinarians around the world. The responses to this survey, received from 645 individuals in 109 countries, indicated that CTVT is endemic in at least 90 countries worldwide. The extraordinary efficiency of CTVT’s global spread was highlighted by its presence in some of the world’s most isolated communities and islands, including the Solomon Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Fiji, Reunion, Mauritius, several islands in Micronesia, remote parts of Siberia, Indian reservations in Arizona and North Dakota and Aboriginal communities in Northern Australia.

Furthermore, our study also revealed that although CTVT has spread worldwide, its prevalence rarely appears to rise above 10% in affected dog populations, suggesting that only a proportion of dogs may be susceptible to CTVT infection at any one time. This contrasts with the epidemiological patterns observed in the only other known naturally occurring contagious cancer, the transmissible facial tumor affecting Tasmanian devils, in which the disease prevalence usually rises above 50% and causes population collapse.

The information on worldwide distribution and prevalence of CTVT provided as a result of our survey is of importance to veterinarians and dog owners in many countries worldwide, as although CTVT can usually be effectively treated, lack of awareness of the disease and poor access to veterinary care can cause CTVT to become a welfare concern.

Additionally, our study has implicated free-roaming dogs as a reservoir for the disease and has shown that the disease was eradicated in the UK during the twentieth century as an unintentional result of the introduction of dog control policies. We also found that dog spaying and neutering are associated with lower CTVT prevalence, further highlighting the possible health benefits of dog sterilization.

Our results add to the existing body of evidence which suggests that careful management of free-roaming dog populations, as well as the inclusion of CTVT in dog import/export quarantine policies, may help to control CTVT spread.

In the future, further studies into the pathogenesis and spread of CTVT may lead to improved methods for disease prevention, detection, monitoring and treatment. In addition, greater understanding of the adaptations that have allowed this unique long-lived cancer to efficiently colonize the world’s dog population, may shed light on the evolutionary processes underpinning cancer more generally.

Article reposted from:

Written by: Alanna Orpen
More research information: The changing global distribution and prevalence of canine transmissible venereal tumor. Andrea Strakova and Elizabeth Murchison, BMC Veterinary Research 2014, 10: 168, DOI: 10.1186/s12917-014-0168-9

Golden retriever becomes a key player in fighting cancer among dogs and humans alike

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

A sweet, loyal golden retriever named Matilda has become a key player in fighting cancer among dogs and humans alike. To combat the disease, she goes on walks, naps, plays with the family’s pet bird and enthusiastically thumps her tail.

Enrolled in one of the nation’s largest veterinary studies, 3-year-old Matilda is contributing to science while leading a normal life at home with her owners, both veterinary scientists at Washington State University.

Michael Court and Matilda, age 3. (Photos by Linda Weiford, WSU News)

“It is literally the study of a lifetime,” said Michael Court, a specialist in pharmacology and genomics who with his wife, Gretchen Kaufman, was eager to sign up their dog.

Never mind that, each year, they’ll have to complete a detailed questionnaire regarding Matilda’s diet, travel, living environment, exercise and behavior.

We consider it a privilege,” said Court.

That’s because lurking within Matilda and other golden retrievers are clues to cancer and other diseases that afflict both dogs and people, he said. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is tracking her and 2,999 other purebred goldens throughout their lives, assessing genetic, dietary and environmental risk factors. (See

“We’re talking about 3,000 dogs, many of whom will eventually develop naturally occurring diseases that also occur in people. I think we’ll see connections between canine and human health that haven’t been systematically verified before,” said Court.

Following Matilda

The nonprofit Morris Animal Foundation in Denver, Colo., is conducting the study, but Matilda won’t have to travel there to provide data. Instead, she’ll be examined at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital by veterinarian Raelynn Farnsworth, one of three specialists there who will perform annual exams on dog volunteers in the region.

After collecting samples of Matilda’s blood, urine, hair and nail clippings, Farnsworth will ship them to laboratories for analysis. Morris Foundation researchers will then catalogue the data.

The nationwide project will take a serious look at cancer, the number one cause of death in all dog breeds, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.  It will also examine ailments such as arthritis, obesity, epilepsy and skin disorders—all maladies that surface in humans as well.

“As data are collected and analyzed over the years, we think that patterns will ultimately emerge, enabling scientists to identify certain risk factors,” said veterinarian Michael Guy, the study’s director at the Morris Foundation.

Study researchers won’t intervene in the canines’ health care or recommend treatments, he said: “We’ll be tracking factors throughout a dog’s life span, not influencing what those factors are.”

Golden opportunity

With more than 300 dog breeds in the world, why limit the study to golden retrievers?  Why not boxers and border collies?

For one reason, as goldens age, they develop cancer at higher rates than most other purebred dogs, said Guy. Plus, they’re very popular dogs and thus provide a large recruitment pool for researchers.

What’s more, because they’re so people-oriented, “our home environment is their home environment. They’re exposed to many of the same things that we are,” he said.

Bear, whose life and death inspired Court to enter Matilda in the golden retriever study. (Photo courtesy of Michael Court)

Two cancers common in aging golden retrievers that also develop in humans are lymphoma and osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. The latter took the life of Court’s first golden – a patient and kind dog named Bear—four years ago. What appeared as a small bump on his head turned out to be a malignant tumor that had spread to the brain.

“My wife, daughter and I were devastated by the news,” Court said. “For 10 years, Bear had been a member of our family, a true companion. He was very special to us.”

More than a year later, the family bought a new doe-eyed puppy and named her Matilda. Spirited and sweet, she’s special to them as well. Which is why, Court said, placing her in the study was as much about love as it was about science.

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Written by: Linda Weiford, WSU News

Some dog breeds might be genetically predisposed to certain cancers

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

It is not uncommon in this postmodern age for dog owners to refer to, and even treat, their dog as if that dog were their child. “This is my baby” and “These are my kids” are phrases frequently uttered by dog owners, absent of any irony, to introduce a bounding Labrador to a new acquaintance or to draw attention from across a bar top to a smartphone picture of a pair of panting Corgis.

All commentary aside, and presuming that there are likely as many people who identify themselves in this state of affairs as there are those who are confused and nauseated by it, the following is important, if potentially distressing, news for modern parents of canine children. Dr. Gerald Post, a board-certified veterinary oncologist, wrote a post on this afternoon concerning revelations made while researching the canine genome that are beginning to make causal links between a dog’s breed and its likelihood of developing certain kinds of cancer. Post notes that while every dog is at some level of risk for cancer, some breeds of dog seem to develop specific types of cancer more frequently than others. For example, Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds are more closely associated with B-cell lymphomas than are other breeds and mixes. Such connections have had empirical support for some time, but it is only now, through genetic research, that scientists might be able definitively describe the connections and move towards more effective treatments.

In general, canine children should be taken to a licensed veterinarian for regular checkups. But parents should also be watchful for warning signs of specific cancers and diligent in keeping their kids away from factors that might increase risk, such as an unhealthy diet.

Janet Tobiassen Crosby, a doctor in veterinary medicine, states that about 1 in 4 dogs will succumb to some form of cancer, and that appearance of tell-tale symptoms like sudden weight loss, uncharacteristic lethargy or loss of appetite and new or changed lumps on the dog’s skin should always be checked out by a vet. While this might inspire an increase of hypochondriasis by proxy in parents of canine children, when the well-being of a child is on the line, one can never be too safe.

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Written by: J. Layne Proctor
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Chemotherapy in Veterinary Medicine

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

The diagnosis of cancer is stressful for pet owners, and the prospect of chemotherapy treatments can be equally difficult. However, the fear that animals will spend most of their last days sick from chemotherapy treatments is unwarranted. Knowing how anti-cancer chemotherapy drugs work and what to expect from the treatments can help pet owners decide on whether such therapy is appropriate for their pets.

When do we use chemotherapy to treat animals with cancer?

Chemotherapy may be used as the sole treatment for certain cancers or may be used in combination with other treatment modalities, such as surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is likely to be recommended for cancer that has already spread to other areas of the body (metastatic disease), for tumors that occur at more than one site (multicentric disease), or for tumors that cannot be removed surgically (nonresectable disease). In some cases, chemotherapy can be used to try to shrink large tumors prior to surgery or to help eradicate certain types of microscopic cancer cells that cannot or have not been completely removed surgically. For cancers that are at high-risk for metastasis early in the course of disease, chemotherapy can be used after surgery or radiation therapy to help slow down the growth of cancer cells in other parts of the body.

How does chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy drugs attack cells in the process of growth and division. Individual drugs may work through many different mechanisms, such as damaging a cell’s genetic material (DNA) or preventing the cell from dividing. However, chemotherapeutic drugs cannot distinguish between malignant cancer cells and normal cells. All rapidly dividing cells are potentially sensitive to chemotherapy. Toxicity to normal, rapidly growing or self-renewing tissues in the body is the reason for most of the side effects seen with chemotherapy. Fortunately, these normal tissues continue to grow and repair themselves, so the injury caused by chemotherapy is rarely permanent.

What are the typical side effects of chemotherapy?

Compared to people who receive chemotherapy, pet animals experience fewer and less severe side effects because we use lower doses of drugs and do not combine as many drugs as in human medicine. The normal tissues that typically are most sensitive to chemotherapy are the intestinal lining, the bone marrow (which makes red and white blood cells), and hair follicles.

Toxic effects to the gastrointestinal tract are responsible for decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. These effects may be mild, moderate, or severe. In most cases, these signs are mild and usually resolve on their own or with oral medication given at home. Although infrequent, some dogs (and cats) may develop severe diarrhea requiring hospitalization and fluid therapy. In many cases, the gastrointestinal side effects from chemotherapy are not seen on the day of treatment. They often occur 3 to 5 days later.

Suppression of the bone marrow by chemotherapeutic drugs may cause a drop in the white blood cell count, leading to increased susceptibility to infection. The infection usually comes from the animal’s own body (such as bacteria normally found in the intestines, mouth, skin, etc.). Severe infections may require hospitalization for intensive supportive care, including intravenous fluid and antibiotics. When a chemotherapeutic drug is used that is known to have a high potential for bone marrow suppression, a complete blood count (CBC) is checked several days after the treatment. If the white blood cell count is low but your pet is feeling well, antibiotics are prescribed as a preventative measure. Subsequent doses of chemotherapy are adjusted based on the results of the CBC. Anemia (low red blood cell count) is often a complication of cancer but is rarely caused by the chemotherapy drugs used in veterinary medicine.

Hair follicle cell in dogs (and cats) that are wire-haired or non-shedding may be particularly susceptible to chemotherapy. Certain breeds of dogs, such as terriers and poodles, will experience variable amounts of hair loss. Hair loss often is most evident on the face and tail. Whiskers and the long hairs over the eyes often fall out in cats. The hair will regrow once chemotherapy is stopped, but may initially have a modest change in color or texture.

There are many different types of chemotherapy agents and each has a different likelihood of causing side effects. If your pet is treated with drugs known to cause certain side effects, we will prescribe medications to help prevent these complications, such as antiemetics (anti-nausea and vomiting medication). In addition, we will give you instructions on what to do if and when a problem arises. We seldom see severe side effects as described above; it is estimated to be less than 5% of all pets receiving chemotherapy. With proper management, most animals recover uneventfully within a few days.

Please keep in mind that any animal can have an unexpected reaction to any medication.

How is chemotherapy given?

How a chemotherapeutic drug is administered, how often it is given and how many treatments are given varies from case to case. The type of cancer, the extent of disease, and general health of the animal help the oncologists to formulate a treatment protocol (type of drugs, dose, and schedule used) appropriate for your pet.

Some drugs are oral medications (pills) that you give at home. Others are brief injections that require an outpatient appointment. In some instances, slow infusions or repeated treatments throughout the day may require an animal to spend the day in the hospital. The treatments are typically repeated from weekly to every third week. Blood tests may be needed to monitor the effects of chemotherapy during the weeks between drug treatments.

The duration of chemotherapy depends on the type of cancer and the extent of disease. Some animals need to receive chemotherapy for the rest of their lives. In others, treatments may be spread out or discontinued after a period of weeks to months provided that the cancer is in remission, i.e., there is no detectable evidence of cancer in the body. Chemotherapy can be resumed when the cancer relapses.

We usually recommend that every patient receive at least 2 cycles of chemotherapy and then be evaluated for response before we decide to continue the treatment, change drugs or discontinue chemotherapy.

It is imperative that you, as a pet owner, are committed to treatment and that you bring your pet to the veterinary hospital when scheduled for therapy.

What can be expected from chemotherapy?

In many cases, we are unable to cure our veterinary cancer patients. Our goal is therefore to improve a pet’s quality of life. To this end, chemotherapy can be used to minimize the discomfort caused by a tumor or to slow down the progression of the disease. For most (but not all) types of tumors, the oncologist will provide information on average life expectancy with and without treatments.

The decision of whether to pursue chemotherapy treatments can be complex. Medical information, practical concerns (such as need for repeated visits, your pet’s temperament, etc.), and financial responsibility all play a part in this decision. We encourage you to discuss your concerns with the oncologist and/or our social worker when making this decision.

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Source: Clinical Oncology Service, Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (VHUP)
Image Credit: Aarun Christian Lucas (Flickr)

Value of Animal Treatment to Human Cancer Medicine

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Dr. Rodney Page thinks the dog is a cancer patient’s best friend. Not in the way you might think. Yes, dogs offer loyal companionship that might be especially meaningful to a pet owner facing disease diagnosis and treatment.

There’s more. Page, as director of Colorado State University’s world-renowned Flint Animal Cancer Center, is leading a push within the field of cancer medicine to view dogs with naturally occurring disease as the ideal route to improving cancer treatment in people.

Dr. Rodney L. Page, Professor of Oncology and Director of the CSU Animal Cancer Center

On Aug. 14, the Stephen J. Withrow Presidential Chair in Oncology was officially conferred to Page during a reception on campus, a ceremony significant for what the chair will provide: funding to support studies that promise to help both pets and people with cancer.

An academic chair is a funding mechanism that provides investment revenue from an endowment – in this case, an impressive $6 million endowment – to boost teaching, research and service in a field of interest to donors. This chair is named for Dr. Steve Withrow, founding director of the CSU Animal Cancer Center, University Distinguished Professor and pioneer in the field of veterinary oncology.

“More than 700 generous donors contributed to this endowment, which is a tremendous testament to their appreciation for Dr. Withrow’s unparalleled cancer treatment and innovations,” said Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “We are grateful for this support in honor of Dr. Withrow because it will allow the Animal Cancer Center, under the guidance of Dr. Page, to carry on a vital legacy in cancer discoveries.”

Funding from the prestigious chair not only supports continued treatment of pets with cancer, but supports the application of knowledge gained to improve treatment for people with cancer.

What does that mean?

It starts here: The Animal Cancer Center books some 6,000 appointments each year with animal cancer patients, primarily dogs. Job No. 1 is healing these patients with medication, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

As Page often says, “Cancer is cancer,” meaning the disease appears, progresses and responds to treatment in much the same way no matter the species. So it makes sense that human treatment should benefit from the vast medical data and knowledge gained in the course of treating pets.

Withrow was an early proponent. When Page took over as center director in 2010, he likewise took up the mantle of canine oncology within the sphere of translational medicine, meaning medical knowledge that may be translated from one species to another.

Page, a CSU veterinary alumnus who was mentored by Withrow, explains the translational role of canine oncology – and more – in the following Q&A.

Question: Dr. Withrow saw the canine oncology patient very early in his career as a model for understanding human cancer. That has continued at the Flint Animal Cancer Center, and is part of the legacy you carry on. Yet, it’s still a concept not a lot of people know about. Can you explain?

Dr. Rod Page: Cancer is cancer. The same mechanisms that result in cancer in humans are operative in dogs, and are operative in other animals as well. The thing that is valuable – and I believe will continue to grow in its value – is the information that can be gathered through well-done clinical studies in companion animals with naturally occurring cancers. The ability to look at why a tumor spreads or why a tumor becomes resistant to drugs in a relevant environment is how we foresee our scientific program growing in the future.

Question: What’s your elevator speech if you were to meet an oncologist in human medicine and they hadn’t been exposed to the concept of using dogs with cancer as a model for understanding human cancer?

Page: It starts with noting that dogs share our environment. They’re exposed to the same sorts of insults that we are exposed to, and they develop naturally occurring, genetically based diseases more than any other species next to man. More than 400 diseases have been identified as genetically based, and many of those are cancer. In addition, dogs age much more rapidly than people, so tumors develop much more rapidly. This means that, as we treat our canine patients, we can ask and answer the same questions but in a fraction of the time that it takes in a human study.

Question: Talk about the comparative oncology trials that are ongoing at the Flint Animal Cancer Center. How would you summarize the overall goal of those trials?

Page: Whether the study is about improving animal health, or whether it is a lead-in to a human trial, the focus is always on innovation – trying to find ways to do it better, trying to overcome limitations on treatment for cancers. It’s all about improving the bottom line of cancer treatment. We have trials that are conducted for cancer drugs, radiation, new diagnostic tests, and all are part of moving the profession forward for the benefit of pets and people.

Question: Could you point to three major breakthroughs at the Flint Animal Cancer Center that have had a direct influence on human cancer treatment and its effectiveness?

Page: The homeruns that have been provided already include an understanding of radiation response for head and neck cancer, which was done by Dr. Ed Gillette in the ’90s. Up until the advent of very new technologies, that was the basis for the treatment protocol. There’s also the limb-sparing surgery for cancer patients that was advanced by Steve and Dr. Ross Wilkins, a human orthopedic surgeon. It has allowed patients, primarily children, to keep their limbs when undergoing cancer surgery and is recognized as the standard for kids with bone cancer. Another example is the development of a product that stimulates the immune system and has resulted in an improvement in survival for kids with bone cancer by delaying metastasis. That product is currently available, but not yet in the United States because of regulatory issues.

Question: Of some of the studies you currently have under way, is there something that shows particular promise for advancing human cancer treatment and its understanding?

Page: We’re part of a study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, which involves multiple institutions and is evaluating compounds for the treatment of lymphoma, a cancer that affects the immune system. We are looking at the response to treatment in dogs with lymphoma, and we’re also looking at how well this product will work at the microscopic level.

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