Research into Canine Cancer Progression Leads to Human Advances

By Dominique Fortes,
Domestic News Assistant Editor

Last week, Akyra, a very poorly cared for Shih Tzu, began treatment at a Univer­sity of Pennsylvania veterinary oncology program after having been rejected by res­cue groups due to her mammary tumors. Cancer is not usually common in house pets as they are typically spayed. However, as per the New York Times, “among strays, females used as breeders in puppy mills and other unsprayed female dogs, one in four has tumors.”

Research as to the causes and treat­ment of cancer began to get into full swing around the early 1900s when animals were introduced into oncology labs. Chickens and rabbits were two of the animals that re­ally helped develop this research.

Cancer has been something known to plague our society for an extremely long time. In fact, research shows that it has been documented since 1600 B.C. How­ever, ideas as to treatment of it were not suggested until the mid-1700s when sur­geon, John Hunter, suggested curing it via surgery and tumor removal. By the 1800s, oncology, the study of cancer, began to de­velop further as Rudolf Virchow worked on cellular pathology studies, leading up to what we now refer to as cancer research.

His research laid the foundation for modern knowledge as he studied micro­scopic pathology and the ability to deter­mine whether or not the more developed surgical procedures of the time had actu­ally eliminated the cancer. Karl Thiersch, a German surgeon, was even able to discern that cancer was spread via affected cells.

These new ideas were a huge leap from the 1600s and early 1700s when cancer was thought to be contagious. Still though, by this point, a complete knowledge of cancer was not existent. In fact, even up until the early 20th century, despite a lack of experimental proof, many professionals believed that trauma caused cancer.

Interestingly enough, there is an ex­treme likeness of response in dogs and humans to chemotherapy medication and even a similarity in molecular malfunc­tions. As per the New York Times, “Be­cause dogs typically have 10 mammary glands and often develop tumors in sev­eral glands at the same time, they present a unique research opportunity, enabling sci­entists to study lesions that are at different stages of development…all in the same an­imal.” This specific characteristic of canine cancer is what really develops research in comparative oncology.

Typically, the procedure involves col­lecting a couple of each dog’s tumor sam­ples and sending them in for both patho­logical and molecular analysis. Scientists hope that this process will help them find specific changes in gene expression that occur as the cancer progresses. These re­sults are then compared to the results of research conducted on humans. Hopefully, via this process, even more progress will be made in the field of oncology.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Apr. 7 print edition.

Contact Dominique at


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