Dogs Are Finally Getting Canine-Specific Cancer Treatment

It's a whole new era of cancer prevention and management for our slobbery best friends.

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Sep 6 2014, 11:00am

Image: GirlWithACamera/Flickr

Cancer is guaranteed to affect virtually every human on the planet, a promise that has in turn cemented oncology as one of the most active, rapidly diversifying fields in medicine. Countless strategies to fight the disease in all its persistent forms are in the works, ranging from the mainstream to the fringe. But while some of these treatments have been tested on dogs for use in humans, very few have been developed specifically for canine biology. Until now.

A new, thriving demand for better cancer treatment for dogs has emerged during the last decade, reflecting the evolving role our slobbery best friends play in our lives. It is no longer considered eccentric or sentimental to regard a pet as a full member of the family, and people are eager to provide the same standard of care to dogs as any other loved one.

"Pets are living longer because of preventative health care, and we're able to diagnose cancers earlier," said veterinarian Lisa Troutman in an FDA statement. "As a result there is an increased need for better cancer treatments."

According to Troutman, the standard method for treating canine cancer has been to use a knockoff version of drugs and treatments developed for humans. But the tide has been changing over the last few years, and the first drugs to be tailored specifically for dogs are beginning to hit the market.

Roughly half of the dogs that live to double digits will develop cancer

Palladia was the first to be released, in 2009, followed by Kinavet-CA1, which was conditionally approved in 2010 (conditional approval means that the safety of the drug meets FDA standards, but the overall effectiveness is unclear).

Both Palladia and Kinavet-CA1 target mast cell tumors, which are particularly prevalent in Boxers, pugs, Boston terriers, and bulldogs. In short: the squishy-faced breeds. On top of these two pharmaceuticals, a third targeted drug called Paccal Vet-CA1 was given conditional approval by the FDA earlier this year. It hones in on mammary carcinomas in all female dogs, and squamous cell carcinomas, which are most common in Collies, Basset Hounds, and Schnauzers.

"We're looking at therapies that are more targeted now," Troutman said of the new drug. "There are even drugs that have been brought to market with the intent of managing common side effects, like vomiting."

The evaluation of the effectiveness of these drugs will hopefully inform a new era of cancer prevention and management in canines, hopefully giving owners plenty more years with their dogs. Given that canines get cancer at a similar rate to humans—and that roughly half the dogs that live to double digits will develop cancer—better treatment plans will always be in demand.

Oddly enough, however, the FDA hasn't approved any feline-specific drugs for cats with cancer. It's unclear whether that means cats are trickier to treat or the demand is simply not as high but one thing's certain: it seems like good kindling for the ever-waxing feud between cat and dog owners.