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

Clinical Trials for Dog Cancer: Pros and Cons

Updated: October 12th, 2018

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 D


Leave a Comment

  1. dog treatments on September 6, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    thank u for info

  2. Rod Russell on March 13, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Similarly, there is ongoing now a manufacturer-sponsored trial of the drug pimobendan (called the EPIC Trial), for use on dogs with mitral valve disease (MVD) but prior to congestive heart failure (CHF). Since several prior studies have shown that the pre-CHF administration of pimobendan can accelerate MVD and even be life-threatening, I think it is irresponsible for vets to recommend that their MVD-stricken canine patients participate in this study, not to mention the cardiologists participating in the study.

  3. Byron Barone on March 13, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Dr dresser I wrote to about my American eskimo he had prostate anger and survived it for two years with the help of a holistic vet he lived a good life for those two years but the cancer came back with a vengeance and his kidneys gave out and his heart stopped in my wife’s arms, he was thirteen and could have lived longer had we known about diet and and other stuff like to many shots at our vets etc. Hope some day there will be a cure I think they will find one before they find It for humans. He wasn’t just a dog he was special and a good friend it is hard to forget him.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      I am sorry Byron. It is very, very hard to lose a loved dog like that.
      Sending you my best
      Dr D

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