A little about where western medicine is going with cancer treatments for dogs and cats
At this time, the main three western treatments for cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. However, this is starting to change. New therapies are starting to be developed in both human and veterinary medicine that show promise to both work better and have less side effects than these traditional therapies. These therapies utilize gene modification and viruses that are made to target cancer cell. They use some of the newer tools we have to identify genes and proteins.
Recently there were some amazing successes with using a modified HIV virus to kill leukemia cells in people. See A breakthrough against leukemia and An immune system trained to kill cancer. Successes like this in our animal friends will not be far behind.
Researchers are working non-stop to figure out if there are proteins and processes unique to cancer cells that can be targeted with new drugs and gene therapies. Already better drugs are being tested that target cancer cells but spare healthy cells. In the future it will no longer be kill the cancer before you kill the body, but instead just kill the cancer. Or even I believe someday, convert the cancer back into healthy cells.
Doctors are starting to do tests for certain human cancers where they take cancer cells from a person’s body and expose them in the lab to different chemotherapy drugs to determine which will work the best. This avoids using a toxic drug that doesn’t work and also can make it so lower doses of drugs can sometimes be used. I think this will soon available to our animal patients as well.
Metronomic chemotherapy is being used more and more. This treatment uses a small daily dose of a chemotherapeutic drug instead of larger doses less often. It has fewer side effects and in some cases is more effective than traditional chemo. It works more to target the blood supply to cancer cells and reminds me more of the herbal approaches we use, using a little bit of a toxin over a long period of time instead of blasting the body with high levels of a toxic drug.
There is a new cancer vaccine for melanoma in the dog that holds promise in extending both life and quality of life. This vaccine helps prevent the spread of cancer. I believe we will see more of these in the future.
Linear accelerators that deliver radiation treatments are now being made with build in CAT scan capabilities so that the tumor can be viewed while the field of radiation is measured and laid out. This makes it possible to treat tumors with radiation that are next to sensitive areas like the brain without serious damage. These new accelerators are also much more accurate in their radiation delivery.
In one of the recent lectures I attended, I learned some oncologists are now using a protein pump inhibitor drug to change the pH of cancer cells, making it so that cancers that are resistant to chemotherapy can be treated and causing cancer cells to absorb these drugs that could not cross their walls before. This could also allow us to use a much lower dose of drug, as usually a very small amount of what is administered actually makes its way into the cancer cell and these drugs would allow a lot more drug to cross into these tumor cells.
It doesn’t stop there, new studies come out every month.
I believe in 10-20 years we will look back on how we treat cancer today as barbaric, much as we view treatments of the past like blood letting. I hope that the new therapies available outdo everything on the market currently. I hope that herbs get put out of business as cancer treatments become very safe and very, very effective. I know this is still in the future but I envision a future where people and animals do not die of cancer. For now we have to take what we are given and do the best we can with it.
However, if your animal has cancer, consider making a visit to the oncologist in your area. There may be something new out there. Often we get therapies before people do because there is less testing required before something can be released and because our animal friends’ life spans are shorter. You never know what is around the corner.