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

Genetic Testing for Cancer Treatments Studied

Updated: October 10th, 2018

An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday discussed genetic testing dogs afflicted with cancer .  These tests could help develop individualized treatments for human patients.  The good news is that indirectly, our loved dogs will likely benefit from this work.

The reason for the research is that in many cases chemotherapy does little to extend survival times in some cancer cases.  However, there does seem to be individual variation, meaning one patient responds very well while another may not respond at all.  If we are able to find a genetic basis for these differences, and work out which mutations indicate which therapy would work best, it could benefit many pets and people.

Certainly, targeted therapies have benefit.  A targeted therapy is one which aims at a very specific “target”, like a silver bullet.  The idea is if the disease depends on this target, neutralization means curing or at least effectively treating the health problem.

This idea works well for disease where single targets in the body are to blame.  A pretty good example is diabetes in dogs- give insulin, and most of the time the disease is well-controlled.

The only problem is that cancer seems to be the endpoint of many different pathways.  And my opinion is that there will be a few canine cancers that rely heavily on single mutations in the genes.  However, I do not believe this approach will cut a large swath through the cancer epidemic.

This is because cancer development is not largely a genetic disease.

To be sure, genes are involved, especially when it comes to purebred dogs.  However, an older theory is gaining traction once again.  This is called the tissue organization field theory.  This idea is covered in the Guide, but the short story is that cancer development may not be due to genes but rather to the environment around the cell.  And of course the environment around the cell can be affected by….lifestyle, diet, and environment.

For some odd reason, these cancer risk factors for humans are understood and accepted, but in veterinary medicine we have not yet made the connection.  Luckily, the Wall Street Journal article makes mention of the similarities between dog and human cancers, and the information human oncologists can get from dog cancer.  And those of us who focus on four legged family members can use this information.

The successes of dogs receiving full-spectrum care outlined in the Guide can be chalked up to this way of thinking.  If humans can benefit from dogs research, dogs can benefit from human research too!


Dr D



Leave a Comment

  1. judith reardon on February 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Dear Dr. D.~

    Our purebred CH Pekingese [now age 11] was diagnosed with oral melanoma in August of 2010. Our vet [in Alden, NY] caught it early on, and did a drastic removal, with resulting clean margins. In December of this past year, it had mestastisized to a lymph node, again ‘caught’ early on. Luckily, we are here in FL for the better part of the year, and our vet here referred us immediately to the University of Florida @ Gainesville…..with my having researched you online, we’ve been using all of the info’ from your book in conjunction with the veterinarian oncology department there, and, too, are participating in the Merial melanoma vaccine as you’ve mentioned.

    The results have been excellent thus far, and Samson is now due for his 6-month booster vaccine in July. As well, we’ve been using your recommended diet, along with minor ‘alterations’ as suggested by Dr. Justin Shmalberg, DVM who’s based at the UF/Gainesville. We cannot say enough about your expertise, and are so grateful that our local veteriarian here had recommended both you and the UF/Gainesville.

    Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,
    Bill & Judy Reardon [and Samson]
    The Villages, FL

  2. John Ang on February 16, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I only wished I have come to this website sooner. Becky, my young 8 years old sheltie developed lameness in his hind limbs and was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The ultrasound scan showed unfortunately that the horrible disease has spread to other organs. He lost a brave but very short fight within two weeks of diagnosis. We first see a local vet for observation of the hind limb problem but in two minutes the local vet said its merely arthritis. Becky did his full blood count then and had a perfect result A second local vet we saw and from the same clinic was sharp to test his prostate. Ironically this second vet was a junior vet in terms of seniority in the clinic. So much precious time had been wasted and if only we have more insights, breakthrough and evidence-based treatments for the horrible disease. We lost Becky to the lack of knowledge in this field and nothing else….

  3. Sharon Anderson on February 15, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Started Maddy my 13 yr Rottweiller on the K9_O3 and Wafer
    Maddy is approx 70 lbs giving 2 K9 pills morning,lunch and dinner = 6
    Seems to be working, Tumnor and fatty tissues on L Front Leg is weeping, clear fluid.
    Expensive but alot cheaper than Surgery So Far4 the past 4 1/2 days.
    Maddy does not get up but is now sitting up, She crawls around on her Mat
    Tramadyl for the RA Rheuxxx Arthritis
    IN God we trust Thanks

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