A Special Bond With Dog

Research on human breast cancer benefits dogs.

By | Posted: Tue Nov 7 00:00:00 PST 2000

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Dogs with widespread breast cancers still have a grim prognosis. But chemotherapy, a group of treatments originally developed for people, can improve and lengthen a dog's quality of life. Treatments are on an outpatient basis - the dog takes the drug, usually into a vein, then simply goes home - and side effects are few. "The dogs don't know they have cancer. They feel good, and they enjoy the life they have left," said Mark Hitt, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM, an internal medicine specialist practicing at Chesapeake Veterinary Referral Center in Annapolis, Md.

Newer human treatments may help dogs even more. "The more we look, the more we discover canine mammary cancer is like the human disease," said Lina Bravo, DVM. Diplomate ACVIM, a veterinary oncologist in private practice in Glenn Dale, Md.

One discovery is the presence of hormone receptor cells inside some dog breast tumors just as in human breast tumors. These cells bind to one of several hormones - such as estrogen or progesterone - and encourage tumor growth. "Dogs have a similar percentage of progesterone and estrogen receptor positive cancers as humans do," Dr. Sartin said. Researchers have used estrogen receptors as a basis for successful cancer treatment in humans and hope a similar treatment will become available in dogs.

The discovery of a handful of genes that give breast cancer a strong familial link in humans has encouraged veterinary researchers to look for a similar link in dogs. Finding a genetic link for breast cancer in dogs could form the basis for prognosis, treatment and possibly even vaccines against breast cancer in the future. "Hard documentation of inherited cancer in the dog is not yet there," said Vilma Yuzbsiyan-Gurkan, Ph.D., a geneticist at Michigan State University in East Lansing studying the genetics of breast cancer in dogs. "I do have some evidence of familial clusters, and I strongly suspect that a fraction of mammary carcinoma in dogs will prove to be inherited," she said.

Nutrition is another new frontier in cancer treatment. "We're finding that the proper diet may enhance the effect of chemotherapy and may improve the life of cancer patients." Dr. Ogilvie said. Some studies suggest a diet high in very digestible protein, along with low carbohydrates, may be beneficial, but it's too soon to make any real suggestions. The concept has caught the eye of one major pet food company that hopes to formulate and market a cancer therapy enhancing diet within the next several years.

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