It’s the biggest killer in dogs over the age of 10 and during their lifetime, one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer.

Today is World Cancer Research Day (24 September) and to mark it, veterinary research charity, the Animal Health Trust (AHT), is highlighting that the only way to beat cancer is through research.

The charity which has its own dedicated research programme tackling cancer in dogs, is currently focusing its research on how tumours spread. The subsequent organ failure when tumours spread is the main cause of death in dogs and humans with cancer.

Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Cancer Research at the Animal Health Trust, said, “This work is so very important because research is the only way to address cancer.

“To have an impact, and make a real difference for dogs affected by different types of cancer, we have to tackle the big threats, and one of the biggest is tumour spread. By studying biopsies of common types of tumour that behaved in different ways, we can begin to understand why some tumours spread and others don’t, and also why some respond to treatment and others won’t.”

In the last 12 months, Dr Starkey and his team have identified ‘biomarkers’ that will predict, with an accuracy of 90%, whether a mast cell tumour or oral malignant melanoma is a tumour that will spread. Currently, there is no test but Dr Starkey’s research will hopefully lead to routine tests that can not only predict, but also help vets better determine how to best treat dogs with either type of cancer. Even more importantly, it is hoped that some of the biomarkers may be good targets for new drugs designed to prevent tumour spread.

AHT cancer researchers are also trying to identify inherited genetic risk factors that cause some dog breeds to have an increased risk of developing a particular cancer. The team recently discovered an inherited genetic variant carried by 70% of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, two of the UK’s most popular breeds. The variant increases the risk of mast cell tumours developing, and its discovery is a first step towards creating a test that will identify dogs in these breeds that have the highest risk of developing this common tumour.

More research is needed to turn these findings into practical solutions for vets and owners but it is one step forward in fully understanding how tumours develop and progress.

Dr Starkey, said, “Ultimately we are aiming to prevent dogs from losing their lives to cancer, and to reduce the number of dogs that develop cancer. We are very grateful to the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and Zoe’s Journey UK for their support of our work as there is just so much to do, but we are making progress and that is very positive.”

Help the researchers

Tumour samples are vital to this research, but accessing tumour samples can be difficult. If your vet suspects that your dog might have cancer, and you feel you would like to help research, please contact the Animal Health Trust oncology research team before your dog starts treatment.

We appreciate this can be a difficult time but your assistance could make a significant difference to the lives of thousands of dogs with cancer.

Please visit www.aht.org.uk/cancer for further information on the cancers that we are currently investigating and the samples that we need to collect.


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