An interesting question came up recently.
A guardian has a dog who is afflicted with amelanotic melanoma. This is a special kind of cancer. Normally, melanomas have pigment in them, and thus they are dark.
However, there is a more rare and odd kind of this cancer that lacks the pigment.
Melanomas can occur in different areas. Some in the mouth (these are aggressive), some on the toes (these are less aggressive), and some on the torso (these are the least aggressive). There are other things like size and whether there is spread that also give us information about how aggressive it is.
Why would one want to know? Well, aggressive cancers need to be hit aggressively. One would not consider radiation for a benign growth, but one might for an aggressive, large melanoma in the mouth of a dog.
What about the melanoma vaccine? Well, this vaccine has been shown to provide real, substantial increases in survival times in some cases of melanoma. Just to be clear, this is not a vaccine for protection. It is used as a treatment.
Back to amelanotic melanomas. Would the vaccine help a dog with an amelanotic melanoma? It is an interesting question. The reason in because the vaccine stimulates the body to attach cells with an enzyme called tyrosinase. Melanoma cells have a lot of this enzyme. Tyrosinase action is directly linked to how much pigment is made in the melanocytes.
But, in a lab, amelanotic melanoma cells were shown to only have up to half the tyrosinase that the pigmented ones did.
So one might suspect that the melanoma vaccine would not be as good for amelanotic melanomas. The odd things is that it was found that in dogs with amelanotic melanoma in the study group, the vaccine seemed to work just as well.
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Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.