Guest Post: Cancer Affects Everyone

Feline Cancer

Peter, a mixed breed cat,
suffered from lymphoma.


Cancer affects everyone’s lives. It might be a family member, a friend or our pet. Our pets get the same cancers that we do. They get mammary cancers, lymphoma, leukemia, lung cancer and any other cancers you can think of. If we can understand the disease of cancer in a dog or cat, we will better understand cancer in people, and vice versa.

There is such a high level of research being done by veterinarians, and until recently this research has gone nearly unnoticed by human physicians. Why? Who knows? But, it is now coming to the forefront that this research is valuable to the treatment and management of cancers in all species. For example, veterinarians have known for decades that estrogen mediated mammary cancer exists. The risk of mammary cancer in dogs increases to the exponential power with each heat cycle, and in cats 100% of mammary tumors are malignant. Spayed dogs and cats rarely get mammary cancers. That has not always been recognized in humans. There is now a test that tells you if the breast cancer is estrogen-receptor-positive or negative. These findings will help not only our pets, but us!

The problem with cancer is that it is not just one disease. Each type of cancer, and every person’s cancer, is different. Each one reacts differently to treatment. But we are really getting close to being able to end cancer. I really believe it. We have so many new innovative advancements in cancer diagnosis and treatment, much due to veterinary research, especially genomic medicine. It has been estimated that a human body has 20 trillion cells and each cell has about 23,000 genes. The genome is the combined collection of the individual’s genes. No two individuals have the same genome. It contains mutations that may or may not be expressed. Knowing an individual’s genome allows us to see if they have a known mutation that is identified to a certain disease. Understanding an individual’s genome allows us to “personalize" medicine. Genomic medicine can tell which treatments, especially a specific chemotherapy, will be effective and which will not. This prevents exposing patients to unnecessary side effects of a chemotherapy that will not work in that individual. It allows the doctor to treat with a drug that will work best, the first time. It can even allow people to get treated early before the cancer even happens.*

More exciting developments are coming out of Duke University, where they have injected some inoperative brain tumors with the polio virus. The virus in injected right into the tumor and kills the tumor cells and, most importantly, recruits the body’s immune system to fight the cancer. This eliminates the toxic effects of chemotherapy that doesn’t discriminate between normal and abnormal cells.

In time, all of this will be available to veterinarians. The problem now is the cost of these tests for pet parents. Cancer sucks. No doubt about it. But we are getting closer to that cure!

*400 lives were saved last year thanks to this genetics program at Ohio State University which is funded by an annual bike tour known as Pelotonia. I have ridden in Pelotonia, 100 miles in one day, in hot and muggy August, the last 6 years. In those 6 years, we have raised $84 million dollars for this type research. To support the Pelotonia click here.


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

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