How Man’s Best Friend Is Helping Cancer Treatment

The author, center, and Dr. Anna Conti, left, and student Kelsey Parrish with Conti’s Basset hound, Picasso, who had surgery for cancer. Via Colorado State University. William Cotton/CSU Photography, Author provided

Kristy Hamilton 23 Feb 2017, 22:05

The Conversation

“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart… Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”

John Grogan, “Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog.”

Isn’t it true? We learn so much from our dogs. But beyond what man’s best friend can teach us about enjoying life, they share something else with us. Cancer diagnoses in dogs are on the rise, as are cancer diagnoses in people. In fact, canine cancer is the leading cause of death in pets over the age of 10 years.

This confluence, it turns out, can be beneficial to cancer research. A field of study known as “comparative oncology” has recently emerged as a promising means to help cure cancer. Comparative oncology researchers study the similarities between naturally occurring cancers in pets and cancers in people in order to provide clues to treat cancer more effectively.

In fact, phase 1 and 2 clinical trials in comparative oncology are underway at 22 sites across the country, including Colorado State University, where I conduct research and am a surgical oncologist for animals.

Research in this field, involving veterinarians, physicians, cancer specialists and basic scientists, is leading to improved human health and more rapid access to effective cancer treatment than has been previously possible through traditional cancer research approaches.

More like your dog than you know

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Man and his best friend. From www.shutterstock.com

As a species, dogs have strong physiologic and genetic similarities to people, much more so than mice, who do not typically live long enough for us to know whether they naturally get cancer. We do know that some rodent species, such as pet rats, can get cancer, but predators typically end a field mouse’s life while it is still young. The laboratory mice typically used by scientists are injected with cancer rather than it occurring naturally in their bodies.

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