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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Is Dog Cancer Treatment the Same as Prevention?

Updated: October 4th, 2018

I’ve been thinking about a distinction that deserves way more attention from those who want to be their dogs’ primary health advocate.

Why are distinctions important? One meaning of distinction is, “the act of making or keeping distinct”.  So there is action implied in distinctions.  Many time actions are built in to words because they are useful.

How does this relate to dog cancer?  Well, let’s look at a distinction that has gotten practically no attention among dog lovers, but should: dog cancer treatment versus prevention.

Why is this distinction significant?  We have to go back to the origin of cancer to answer that question.  In The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there is a truckload of information on this topic for those that want it. But let’s skim the surface as a refresher…

Cancer gets going once there are a number of things that have gone wrong. First, there is enough DNA injury to mess up cell growth genes to get them stuck in the “on” position.  Cell growth genes stuck in “on” makes cells multiply uncontrollably.  Second, the immune system weakens so much it cannot react to the cancer cells to eliminate them. Third, the environment in the body is deranged to the point where it literally favors the growth of cancer.

These things piled on top of each other yield cancer. However, this is a long road, sometimes taking generations to finally become full-fledged cancer.

Okay, let’s switch gears for a little bit. If I were to suggest that doxorubicin, a common chemotherapy drug, should be given to dogs to prevent cancer, people would rightfully say I was nuts. You don’t give a cancer treatment drug to a healthy dog!

Why is that? Well, by the time cancer is really rolling, things are have become monstrous.  Conventional care uses big guns to try to overcome these monstrous changes. Not only are the changes massive, they are self-propelled.  It is this fact that helps explain why (at this moment) we do not have a cure for systemic cancers.

Now here’s where it gets a little fuzzy.  There is a common perception that the stages leading up to cancer are the same as those after the cancer cells start multiplying.  This is a misconception.

Some of the little tiny steps leading up to cancer development (and there may in reality be thousands or millions of these, which is another story) can be derailed.  When a little step is blocked, we have prevented that little step on the road to cancer. This is what you call cancer prevention.

Now, there are certain things that, at least in test tubes, petri dishes, and sometimes in living bodies, seem to be able to derail some of these steps. For example, one old idea was that free radicals damage DNA, and DNA injury can yield a growth gene stuck in “go” mode.  You provide an antioxidant, the free radical load can go down, and the old thinking was that this could maybe help prevent cancer (but not necessarily in reality…there is data now that cancer rates or recurrences may actually be higher in people who take antioxidant vitamins.

Let’s focus on a different scenario altogether now. If you provide  an antioxidant effect to an existing cancer cell (with no other effects), and there is a decent theoretical argument that this nasty little cell will be happier.

If one were to buy the old argument that antioxidant vitamin supplementation helps prevent cancer, and was blurring the distinct concepts of prevention and treatment, this would seem very surprising.

Wait, did I just write that? Yes, you read correctly.  Cancer cells are extremely busy cells. They produce a lot of free radicals within them, and they are not that good at quenching these damaging by-products, at least not like healthy cells can, with their much lower free radical loads.

So a cancer cell filled with free radicals might really like it (again, theoretically) if you provided it with a way to get rid of all those damaging free radicals it is producing.  If one were to buy the old idea that antioxidants prevent cancer, given this information, you might also need to buy that antioxidants help make existing cancer cells happier.

It gets quickly apparent that if you treat cancer prevention as if it were cancer treatment, things can get pretty confusing.

The point here is that many in the alternative medicine community suggest cancer prevention steps for dogs that already have clinical cancer.  This is an error and needs attention.

Cancer treatment and cancer prevention are different.

Bottom line?  If someone gives you some data supporting the use of a therapy in cancer prevention,  ask about data for cancer treatment.  Although there is overlap, these really are not the same issues.


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. bolsas femininas on February 20, 2010 at 7:34 am

    RSS is working, not sure what was the problem, thanks anyways!

  2. Kim on February 10, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Dr. D,
    I know this is a dog cancer blog, but just had a question about Neoplasene oral liquid for a kitty. 🙂
    My cat was just started on Neoplasene liquid for fibrosarcoma. Can you tell me how long before I may see some kind of response? The tumor is on her face. She has had the topical given 4 times in 6 months, so we are trying the oral. We assume the topically was not working as well as it should because of the use of anti-inflammitories. I really hope this oral works! In the couple of days that she has been off of the anti-inflam. meds it, the tumor, has gotten VERY angry, red and swollen.
    Any response would be GREATLY appreciated!
    Thank You so much!

  3. bolsas femininas on February 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Loved reading this post, do you also have some sort of newsletter?

  4. Lilly on February 1, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Now I am confused. So, would I give a well dog a daily antioxidant, or not?

    • Dr. Dressler on February 7, 2010 at 9:27 pm

      Dear Lilly,
      At this time I am of the opinion that antioxidants for dogs should be obtained from their diet, including from a small vegetable source that is fermented or cooked slightly to mimic a dog’s ingestion of digested plant material from the stomach of their prey. Apoptogens are another story….
      Hope this helps,
      Dr D

  5. phillip on January 26, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Along the path of fighting for Gibsons life, I’ve also been
    a firm believer in prayer. Prayer can defeat cancer if it’s
    gods will. I’ve been praying non stop and will continue to do
    so. God bless Phillip

  6. phillip on January 26, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Dr. D

    Thank you for your reply. As you can see by my previous
    email, I have been a good dad to Gibson, and I have fought
    a good fight for him and his survival. I’ve gotten a lot
    of good advice, and have tried quite a few supplements and
    cancer fighters over the last few months. Along this journey,
    I have visited conventional, holistic, alternative, and christian
    vets. I have stayed up many nights, and have suffered health
    issues myself because of my fight for gibson. Along the way,
    I’ve been critisized for not letting Gibson go peacefully, and
    I’ve also been hailed and complimented by many for continuing to
    fight. One day cancer will be defeated. I’m hoping that you are the
    man, who some day comes up with the solution. Keep up your good
    work Dr. D. God bless Phillip

  7. Sarah on January 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Phil – I am so sorry for what you and your dog are going through. You are doing all you can, yet it sounds like the situation is very severe. If you have Dr. Dressler’s book, please read the section that talks about evaluating the quality of your dog’s life. I found this section to be very helpful when my goldendoodle was battling hemangiosarcoma. It’s very hard, when we humans are entrenched in the fight for our dogs’ lives, to clearly understand what is before us. It’s tempting to always want to try “one more thing”. Yet, this is not always the best path for our dogs. I know from experience that there can be a sense of relief when a decision is made to approach a beloved dog from a hospice sort of perspective. That may be the very best way to handle the days you and your dog have left, and it may be the best way to make those days the best they can be. Again, I am so sorry for your situation. . . but you must know that your dog is fully aware of your love & commitment to well-being and love. Love is stronger than cancer. Always. And forever.

  8. phillip on January 24, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Dr. Dressler,

    I surely would apprieciated it, if you would take the time to
    answer my below email.
    I am in a situation with my golden retriever, and time is not on
    my side as you will see.
    Months ago, I took my golden retriever in to have a lump in his abdomine
    checked out. My vet told me to keep an eye on it after his examination. He
    thought that the lump was most likely a non cancerous tumor. After a couple
    months went by, I noticed that the growth had got quite a bit bigger, so I took
    my dog in again. My vet tried to use a needle test to try to extract a sample,
    but the growth was so firm, that he could not get the needle to penetrate, so
    he made an incision instead. After viewing the growth from inside, he told me
    that my dog had a growth called fibrosing streatitis myositis. I was then sent
    to a specialist who did a much larger incision to extract some inner samples
    of the growth to be sent out to a lab. The biopsy came back as a low grade spindle cell
    sarcoma. A surgury was recommended to remove the tumor, but I was told
    it would be risky because of the tumors size and location. I decided not to have
    the surgury performed. Weeks have passed now, and the tumor is quite huge
    and firm. It fills in both sides of my dogs abdomine, and underneath. His hind
    leg is now suffering from swelling and lameness. Because the tumor is seeking
    more territory, it is now pressing against his organs and stomach, causing total
    lack of appetite, and the ability to hold solids down. My vet recommended a
    half cup of ensure twice a day. I also add some ground up chicken or beef to
    the ensure. I have to totally feed him with a spoon, then holding his mouth some
    what shut so he does not spit the food out. He is also losing weight quite rapid.
    (I forgot to mention something earlier). Please read on. I was told that the tumor
    is now starting to press against my dogs areas, that will soon effect his ability
    to urinate and pass a bowel movement. This is the latest from my conventional vet.
    My dog will not eat on his own anymore, but he is drinking water. I’ve tried Artemisinin,
    cantron, milk thistle, proteo enzymes, IP-6 Inositol, liquid herb detoxifiers, multiple
    vitamins, fish oil, and so on. I considered giving him neoplasene taken orally, but
    was told that neoplasene could cause complications because of the tumors size,
    and possibly leave a hollow hole once the tumor was attacked. The cancer is far
    along, and I’m feeling like my options are running out. I’m considering 2 last options.
    Apicot seeds, B17 along with B15, or Essiac tea capsules, ( Ojibwa herbal blend),
    or something from the cancer fighting strategies site. I would deeply apprieciate
    your opinion on these options, and my general email. I’m also concerned that
    this form of cancer may be so far along at this time, that no magic bullet or
    supplement will work, and that maybe I should just see my vet to give him a
    peaceful exit, but at the same time, If i can find something out there that will
    shrink the tumor and give my dog a little longer to live, It’s worth pursuing.
    If not, I have to say that I’ve at least given a good fight concerning my dog.

    • Dr. Dressler on January 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm

      Dear Phillip,
      I believe it may be time for a real life quality consideration. I recall answering a question from you several months ago about your dog. It seems you have been going on a search that may be difficult to conclude. One of the benefits of reading The Dog Cancer Survival Guide is that I have spent the time hand selecting the highest yield items that work as well as any can. Sadly I have not found a cure for cancer, rather improvements in life quality and lifespan are the goal which is often met by taking the time to read the book. I have researched the three items you listed and found them to have a lower probability of reliable increases in life span and life quality than the items in the book, some of which you are using and some you are not.
      As Sarah indicated, it would behoove you to do a treatment plan analysis at this stage. What is your dog’s life expectancy if there were no cancer? What is your dog’s life expected life extension with the available cancer treatments (get this from your vet). One month? More? Take this life extension figure and add about 25-50% to it, which is a working, but very approximate, number I use if a dog lover takes the time to implement the Full Spectrum Approach in the book. Now consider your dog’s quality of life, which is another determination that should be made in as logical a way as possible. Again, the book is good for that too.
      Finally, consider the whole picture and ask yourself, as your dog’s guardian and advocate, what makes the most sense?
      I think you will arrive at some clarity if you focus your attention on these issues. It is very hard, but you need to be the one with resolve to be your dog’s best advocate.
      Good luck,
      Dr D

  9. Abbie on January 23, 2010 at 10:45 am

    I am glad to find info about pet cancer! Thanks!

  10. Kate on January 20, 2010 at 3:38 am

    Hello Dr. D,

    Thanks for giving some light on both subjects..Truly these are different dog health related concerns that need different set of medications.

    • Dr. Dressler on January 22, 2010 at 10:05 pm


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