Cancer is a very strange and horrible creature. The disease in very similar in dogs and people, and this post will use information from human literature so you can apply it to your dog.
There are several ways the immune system is involved in cancer.
One of the problems afflicting cancer patients is their immune system is less active than it is supposed to be. To make matters worse, cancer cells are very similar to body cells, and for this reason (among others) they are able to hide from the immune system. Finally, in some cases, the immune system cells actually are able to stimulate the tumors.
Let’s take a closer look, and see what is available to help dogs with cancer.
Chronic stress creates hormones and chemical signals that suppress the immune system. These include cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. It could be argued that modern civilization tends to increase the stress response. This is part of the so-called “civilization syndrome”.
Chronic consumption of high levels omega-6 fatty acids also cause deranged immune responses. These are found in modern diets, both in people and pets. Grain fed beef and beef products, as well as common oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, etc) are some sources of this excess omega-6 intake.
In addition, melatonin deficiency caused by staying up at night can interfere with normal immune response.
So we (and probably our dogs too) may lead our lives with unhealthy immune systems as a consequence of diet and lifestyle.
The immune system should catch developing cancer cells, and many times it does. However, cancers are able to suppress immune responses, which helps them escape destruction. They send out chemical signals that literally block the immune system from normal function.
Cancer cells are able to recruit a certain type of white blood cell to help tumor progression. These white cells are called M2-polarized macrophages. In this way, the tumor actually hijacks the white cells and coerces them to help tumor spread.
To make matters worse, most chemotherapy drugs further suppress the immune system. Immune suppression also result in secondary infections, which can be dangerous when fighting cancer.
For these reasons, an important part of Full Spectrum Care is immune support. The Guide discusses the different ways to accomplish this, but in summary they are:
- release stress by exercise, social interactions, and overcoming small challenges in life
- increase the amount of omega-3 and lessen the amount of omega-6 fatty acids (see The Dog Cancer Diet download, available at the top of this page)
- a full night’s rest in total darkness (with supplemental melatonin is some cases)
- provide immune supporting supplements like beta-glucans found in combination apoptogen formulas.
All my best
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.