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March 29, 2017 – Cancer remains an important cause of illness and death in dogs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 6 million dogs are diagnosed with cancer each year. Several surveys, including a recent survey of CLHP participants, reveal that cancer is a top concern for dog owners. The good news for dog owners is that new treatment strategies to fight human cancer are making their way into veterinary medicine, giving hope to the many dogs diagnosed with cancer each year.

Chemotherapy has been used to treat cancer for more than 70 years, and radiation has been used as a cancer therapy for over a century. However, it wasn’t until the last part of the 20th century that cancer treatments made significant advances, becoming more refined and targeted. Cancer treatments continue to evolve, and Morris Animal Foundation is funding several studies looking at innovative ways to treat cancer in dogs. They include:

Personalizing chemotherapy

Customizing treatment based on an individual’s or a tumor’s genetic makeup, tumor type, and lifestyle considerations is entering the mainstream in human medicine. Often referred to as personalized or precision medicine, oncologists using this strategy reject a “one size fits all” approach to cancer treatment, focusing instead on the unique aspects of each individual’s cancer. Researchers at Colorado State University are looking at ways to use personalized treatment for dogs with osteosarcoma. The research team is using tumor characteristics to guide the type of chemotherapy for each individual dog. Their goal is to provide guidelines for veterinary oncologists treating this type of deadly cancer.


Harnessing the power of an individual’s own immune system to destroy cancer is a promising new way to target cancer cells. Cancer cells use a variety of strategies to make themselves “invisible” to the immune system, and the goal of immunotherapy is to overcome these defenses. Morris Animal Foundation has several research teams working on different immunotherapy projects. One exciting project currently underway at the University of Pennsylvania uses a bacterium coupled to an antibody that recognizes a specific target on the surface of an osteosarcoma cell. Preliminary results are encouraging, and larger-scale trials are planned.

New imaging techniques

A research team at the University of Illinois is looking at a new way to check the completeness of tumor removal. Surgery can cure many types of cancer or improve prognosis and quality of life. However, it can be challenging for surgeons to determine during surgery what is diseased and what is normal tissue. The team in Illinois is using a new device that can detect tiny amounts of abnormal tissue left after a tumor is surgically removed. The device works something like an ultrasound, but can detect more subtle differences in tissue. This technique allows surgeons to remove more tissue if needed while the patient is still on the surgery table. Preliminary results are promising, and several patients have received this special treatment and are doing well.

Nanoparticle therapy

The use of nanoparticles, microscopic particles that can be used to carry substances in the body, has exploded in the last decade. Researchers at the University of Illinois used specially coated nanoparticles to deliver chemotherapy directly to a bone tumor. Although traditional chemotherapy given intravenously can be very effective in slowing tumor growth, the treatment comes at a price: many normal cells also can be destroyed, leading to debilitating side effects. By delivering chemotherapy that is directed by bone-loving nanoparticles to the tumor site, serious side effects can be avoided and the tumor gets the maximum effect of the drug. The chemotherapeutic nanoparticle mixture has been given to nine dogs with few side effects noted. The team demonstrated tumor destruction using this technology and is hopeful nanoparticle therapy can be used to treat other types of cancer.

One of the main goals of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is to identify risk factors for cancer development, which will help veterinary medicine move forward faster with new strategies for prevention and treatment. Although cancer remains a major cause of illness and death in dogs, recent treatment advances, and the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, are giving owners hope that their four-legged friends with cancer will have longer and healthier lives.