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

Why is Canine Cancer Still Winning? Part 2

Updated: February 18th, 2019

After all this work, dog cancer is still often incurable.


In this second post on the topic, I would like to look at the flow of information.  We need to look at where data is generated.  And, as usual, recall the flow of the dollar.

Generally, cancer research is the source of the information we have about cancer.  There are many different kinds of studies when talking about cancer research.  Once basic science is gathered through research,  clinical problem solving is gauged with clinical studies. Clinical studies have focused on chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

A couple of points here.  First, basic research is quite powerful at answering building block questions. The downside is that quantum leaps may not be gained with the smaller steps that basic research lasers in on.

Second, we have a western bias in our scientific method that observational studies (correlations) are poor at generating real information.  We always want our “gold standard” of double blind, placebo-controlled studies.

I do not agree with the privileged status of this gold standard.  It is only one way to gain insight.

Funny, who has really been able to disprove that there was not a confounding factor causing the death of gunshot victims beyond the ballistic trauma?  How about the confounding variable of time?  In spite of this, most would be quite nervous looking down the barrel of a firearm.  We all agree that gunshots can be life-threatening.

A strong correlation is common knowledge, without the need for any “gold standard” study.

There is no doubt that some of the greatest leaps in thought were simply outside the box thinking, evidenced by a “relatively” significant college drop-out some have heard of with the initials A.E. Sometimes, institutionalization contracts thinking.

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Third, funding comes most often from the government (NIH) or private corporations (big pharma).   Neither actively encourages real disruptive ideas as NIH grants usually piggy-back previous research, and big pharma wants to sell product.

Even if clinical trial revenue streams encouraged sideways leaps in discovery, the mechanics of trials are a bit clumsy.  For example, there is almost no funding devoted to the marketing of clinical studies to the public, and some difficulty getting good caseload.

Free cancer care!! Why have we not heard this in areas around veterinary universities or referral centers?  Oh wait, does that make the research less “elegant”?

Academics are expected to carry their normal load of teaching, research and administrative tasks.  This dilutes progress.  Many academics loathe teaching anyway.  Let’s get problem-oriented!

Where are the research dream teams?  Getting specialists to attack, in parallel, different aspects of a common goal filled the presidency seat.  Is cancer research not worthy of this strategy?

In many ways, our traditions in information accrual are paralyzing our ability to problem solve.  We have become unable to widen back, drowning in minutae and suffocating in fear of criticism by peers.


Dr. D

Leave a Comment

  1. d summers on February 12, 2011 at 5:53 am

    Dr Dressler,
    Thank you for your insight and willingness to see the WHOLE picture. Not only in the vet world but we humans also need to be aware of how the system works. We need more DVM’s like you, willing to push the envelope a bit, not fearful of peers but most aware of progress with different modalities. How great it would be in the human world as well to find a MD with training not funded by big pharma or questionable gov. “studies.” Keep helping us help our animals….and ourselves. Warm regards, DS

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