Helping Dogs and Humans With Cancer

Photo by Carol Duff

Health Editor’s Note: Cancer is an awful illness to be diagnosed with.  Something surely worse than having a diagnosis for yourself would be to have a child or pet diagnosed with cancer.  Maybe there is a door to hope with being able to enter your canine love into a trial where hopefully he or she will be cured of cancer or be given a fighting chance. Your veterinarian or a veterinarian who is well versed in treating dogs with cancer should be able to help you and your dog to gain entry to a clinical trial. Also, the veterinary schools at universities would be of help. ..Carol   

National Cancer Institute’s Comparative Oncology Studies 

by the National Cancer Institute

Dogs are, no doubt, man’s best friend. So, it’s no surprise that people will do almost anything for their dogs. But what can a person do if their dog is given a devastating diagnosis of cancer?

One option is to enroll the pet in an NCI-supported clinical trial testing a new cancer treatment. The goal of these trials, offered by veterinary medical schools around the country, is to find new treatments that preserve dogs’ quality of life and maximize their time with their families.

“These [dogs] are not lab animals, they are our patients,” said Toby Hecht, Ph.D., deputy director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis, who oversees some of the canine studies.

The trials have another benefit that pet owners may not expect: Providing insight into how the treatments and approaches being studied in dogs may be translated to help people with cancer.

That’s because the biology of humans and dogs, as well as the tumors that grow in each species, are similar in many ways. What’s more, cancer treatments that are safe and effective in dogs often work well in people, too.

Since 2003, NCI has been using information from studies of canine cancer to help guide studies of human cancer and vice versa—a field known as comparative oncology. Two NCI efforts, the Comparative Oncology Program (COP) and the Pre-medical Cancer Immunotherapy Network for Canine Trials (PRECINCT), facilitate trials of new therapies for different types of cancer in pet dogs, as well as laboratory studies to learn more about the basics of canine cancer.

“Pet dogs benefit from what we do because we learn about their cancer and that can ultimately help identify better treatments for them,” said Amy LeBlanc, D.V.M., director of the Comparative Oncology Program in NCI’s  Center for Cancer Research. “We see the work that we do as an opportunity to help both dogs and people.”

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  1. American Cancer Society Cancer Facts and Figures, 2019, page 3 quote:
    “About 606,880 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2019 (Table 1), which translates to about 1,660 deaths per day”. If you divide this by 24 hours per day and again by 60 minutes per hour you get about 1.15 per minute. A convenient approximate number to use is about 1 person dies every minute. Or, rounding off the 606.800 deaths per year or roughly a half million per year. Also all approved cancer treatments are life threatening, so a patient could have died from the cancer or treatment or both. The only way to prove the cause of death is from an autopsy by a top independent pathology lab. This is rarely done. Many doctors assume the patient died of cancer without rigorous proof from an autopsy. A few years ago I believe it was an article by Gina Kolata in the NY Times which estimated we have spent between $100 billion and $1 trillion on the war on cancer since its inception in 1971. How is the NCI doing? Is this “success” or dismal failure? If it is failure why should the taxpayers continue to fund it with borrowed money adding to the already enormous National Debt? Winfield J. Abbe, Ph.D., Physics

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