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

Abnormal Immunity and Cancer

Updated: October 19th, 2018

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 D

Leave a Comment

  1. Dori Demarbieax on March 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    I read about Apocaps in GREAT SCOTS magazine and immediately ordered it.
    Yesterday was a check up day for one of my Scotties, at Oregon State University, Veterinary Hospital. Asking the Oncologist about it’s use, the question arose as to safety in use with the many chemo therapies available. We have recently changed protocols, moving from chemo injection to daily chemo compounded capsule given at home. Since the enclosed info that came with Apocaps suggested checking with your veterinarian. I did and hence the above question arose. It was left up to me to add this product to our present protocol.
    My Scottie-girl is 10 years old, diagnosed with bladder cancer in Oct. 2011. She is doing well and holding her own with no growth or change in the tumor. She eats well and her behavior appears normal. What do you suggest?
    Thank you so much for her attention to this request.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Dear Dori,
      oncologists are using Apocaps with a variety of chemo agents and no interactions seen, except we have seen cases of digestive upset from time to time with oral chemo (that could do it by themselves anyway) like palladia and CCNU. The other precautions are on the insert…
      I hope this helps

  2. Gail McTune on January 5, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I hope that you will address grain ( gluten sensitivity ) in our dogs. Most of the population has no clue that kibble is produced to make it easier on humans to take care of their pets—but, it is one of the reasons that our beloved pets are ill. Dogs are not wired to metabolize grains

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on January 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      Dear Gail,
      Although food allergy and intolerances are important there is only the mildest connection to cancers (perhaps mast cell tumors)…although I have written scads on carbs and diet!

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