Animal researchers could find clues that benefit human cancer care

TORONTO- Did you know that cancer claims one in four dogs and one in eight cats?

“These dogs and cats are living in the environment with us. They have an intact immune system, their genetically diverse and unfortunately their getting cancers.” said Dr. Paul Woods, Professor of Oncology at Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.

Dogs develop many of the same cancers as humans and naturally occurring cancer in pets may provide clues that cancer in laboratory rodents can’t.

The Ontario Veterinary College  at the University of Guelph is the first Canadian Institute to join the National Cancer Institute’s comparative oncology trials.

“We’re having about 60 to 80 pets come in every week. Of that, 15 to 20 per cent of them are new to the Ontario Veterinary College, meaning they’ve come here for a diagnosis, or staging, looking for extended disease,” Woods said. “The other 80 per cent is coming back for treatment which could be surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.”

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Natasha Elloway, a dog owner who brought her pet to the Guelph cancer centre, said she noticed a lump in her dog’s chest just a few weeks before its fourth birthday.

“We immediately took him to our own vet and when we found out it was cancerous, they recommended the OVC,” she said.

Woods had a look at the dog and found it had a common cancer called “hemoglobin sarcoma.”

“Our surgeons went in there, took out the cancer as much as they could. Our concern is the cancer may come back so what we’re doing is giving chemotherapy to increase the quality of life,” Woods said.

A tumour bank has also been established at the animal cancer centre. The bank stores tumour and normal tissue, blood, and urine from surgical patients, mostly dogs.

“We take that part of the cancer that would normally be discarded and we put it in our tumour bank and we’re saving it at really cold temperatures,” said Dr. Woods.

The samples are stored for potential research by scientists around the world studying animal or human disease.

“It is a tumour bank, but really it’s more like a safety deposit box because it’s got priceless cargo there for the future,” said Dr. Woods.

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Visit the Cancer on a Leash initiative to learn more. 

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