A Different Animal: Cancer in Pets and People

Melanoma can be a concern in pets,but it is rare compared to its occurrence in people. Unlike the skin spots that alert human patients and physicians to its presence, melanoma in dogs is usually found in the mouth or nail bed. In cats, the most frequent location is in the iris, the colored part of the eye.

Bone Cancer: the Same in Dogs and Kids

Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, is a disease in pets that shares some similarities to the disease in people. Osteosarcoma in dogs serves as a model for the disease in children due to its similar behavior in both species. It is diagnosed more commonly in dogs than in children, and the good news is that research to improve treatments for dogs with the disease has been translated into new and better treatments for children, showing yet again how our enduring friendship with dogs is beneficial.

For example, ongoing investigation into naturally occurring canine osteosarcoma in dog patients has allowed for the testing of surgical methods that are readily translated to pediatric osteosarcoma—something that can’t be done with rodent models of the disease. The most notable contribution of dogs to the treatment of human osteosarcoma is the pioneering of limb-sparing surgery to remove tumors without removing entire limbs. The NCI has funded that groundbreaking research.

Next on the horizon for osteosarcoma is the investigation of genetic abnormalities leading to the disease and the development of molecularly targeted therapies against those abnormalities.

In dogs, an early sign of osteosarcoma is limping due to pain resulting from the destruction of the bone by the tumor. Although difficult to discuss with fear-fraught pet families, amputation of the leg can dramatically improve quality of life for dogs afflicted by the disease.

Chemotherapy slows the spread of osteosarcoma, and lucky dogs may experience a year or more of good quality of life.

But Some Things Remain the Same

Though we can see that cancers in pets and people differ in many ways, basic common sense when it comes to prevention and early detection in both species is the same. If you, the diligent pet owner, are concerned about your pet’s cancer risk, see your veterinarian for a complete examination and a conversation about minimizing risks. For more on detecting cancer in your best friend, review the Ten Warning Signs of Cancer in Pets.


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