Dog lovers coping with canine cancer often are looking for solutions. When hearing the news that a loved dog has cancer, and the statistics and costs related to chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, many times a guardian will start looking for something else to try, a solution that seems better than what is available. Often the topic of a clinical trial comes up, and for this reason it is a good idea to understand some details related to enrolling your dog in a trial.
First, the good news. For many guardians, a clinical trial investigating a new treatment provides some hope. Maybe the new treatment will give a dog with cancer a longer life. This is especially important if the survival data for the cancer is not good, which is not that rare. Some cancers don’t really respond well to the usual options that are presented by the vet or the oncologist, and something different is compelling. And sometimes, the new treatment does indeed work out well.
Another benefit of a clinical trial is cost. These days, the cost of treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can be beyond what an average guardian is able to afford. Clinical trials are usually provided at little to no cost for the guardian, since the investigator commonly have grants or other funds that support the study.
Yet another benefit is that dogs in clinical trials are getting expert care. The studies are most often done at oncology referral centers or universities, where the level of expertise is usually very high. This can be a real benefit for these canine patients, as well as the guardians who care for them.
Finally, a trial does more than benefit a single dog with cancer. The information gathered during a clinical trial can shape the way dog cancer is treated in the future for all dogs, and maybe even humans as well.
Yet, there are some realities of a clinical trial that guardians should keep in mind before enrolling their dogs. This is not to say that these aspects of a study make it a bad idea, but they need to be carefully assessed by the guardian before the decision to move forward is made.
First, and this can be heartbreaking, is the treatment may not work. The reason research is done is to assess safety and how effective a new treatment is for dogs with cancer, which means the investigators really do not know whether it will work before starting out. There is always some evidence that the treatment should turn out to be a good one, but the problem is that it can be hard to predict beforehand with certainty.
Another feature of a study is that most will have at least two groups of dogs. One group will get the new treatment, and the other group will not. Most of the time, the group that does not get the treatment will still get the traditional treatment. However, the studies are usually “blinded”, which means that it is not known which dogs are getting the treatment and which are not. This can be difficult for guardians, who often wonder whether their dog is getting the treatment or not.
Dogs enrolled in clinical trials are usually not allowed to use other treatments that are not within the scope of the trial. The reason for this is that these treatments might cloud the data that is gathered in the trial, making the information flawed and of little use. But for a given dog who was not responding to the treatment provided, the inability to select something different might be a problem.
In the final analysis, like each and every step in dog cancer, the decision is the guardian’s…which is why there is a whole section on not only clinical trails but also treatment plan analysis in the Guide, along with examples of treatments beyond surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. For many, clinical trials are a valuable decision for dogs with cancer.
If you would like to see what clinical trials are in your area, check out the Veterinary Cancer Society clinical trials resource page.
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.
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