Saving Man's Best Friend ... and Man Too!

April 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Humans and dogs share a dangerous type of cancer known as melanoma. With dogs, melanoma often shows up in their mouths and can spread quickly. But a new treatment -- also being tested in humans -- is actually working for dogs.Nelida Belle describes 11-year-old Tootsie as another daughter.

"Out of all the dogs I have had, she is just precious. She is lovable. She is perky," Belle says.

Looking at her, you'd never know Tootsie's body is fighting to live.

"If I had ever known this could happen to a dog, I would have had her in a month earlier to be checked," Belle says.

Tootsie was having a hard time eating -- a dental problem, Belle thought. It turned out to be a malignant melanoma tumor in the back of her mouth.

Veterinarian oncologist Stacy Santoro says canine melanoma is an aggressive form of cancer. Dogs typically only survive one to five months. But this new treatment -- a canine cancer vaccine -- could change that.

"Overall, it's been shown to significantly prolong survival in dogs with oral melanoma," says Stacy Santoro, DVM, DACVIM, veterinary oncologist at Florida Veterinary Specialists in Tampa, Fla.

Studies show dogs that get the vaccine -- along with surgery or radiation -- have lived three-times longer. Researchers hope for similar results in humans.

"The point of it is to stimulate their own immune system to recognize tumor cells and then kill those affected cells," Dr. Santoro says.

But lengthening Tootsie's life comes at a cost. Radiation and the vaccine will run $4,000 to $5,000.

"My daughter is graduating from high school, and we were planning a cruise for graduation, and the treatment is rather expensive, and she said, 'We'd rather give this money for Tootsie,'" Belle says.

A sacrifice to give their Tootsie more time.

Melanoma in dogs mimics the natural course of the disease in people. It's the most common type of oral cancer in dogs -- mostly showing up in those with dark-pigmented skin and is usually not related to sun exposure. The vaccine is being studied in humans at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Only a veterinarian oncologist can administer it to dogs.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Florida Veterinary Specialists
Tampa, FL
(813) 933-8944
www.floridaveterinaryspecialists.com


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