Whether it is a human or a dog, the news that one of our loved ones has been diagnosed with cancer is devastating. This disease is quite a common cause of ill health in dogs, particularly as the dog gets older. Treatment is available with varying degrees of success. Dogs have been receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy similar to the therapies that have been available to humans for many years. However, a new treatment for some canine cancers is making it’s way to a market and available to pet owners. Owners are now able to treat some canine cancers with vaccinations.
The First Vaccine for Canine Cancer
The first vaccine for cancer in dogs was a melanoma vaccine developed by the University Wisconsin-Madison in the 1998. The vaccine was created using dog melanoma cells that were grown in a laboratory. The cells’ DNA was altered so that they no longer divided, so couldn’t create a tumor. Additional DNA was also added to the cells to make them secrete an immune stimulant. The idea was to stimulate the dog’s immune system to fight the melanoma. 40% of dogs with melanoma responded positively to the vaccine, and in 12.5% of cases the cancer completely vanished.
As well as the possibility of completely removing the cancer, the vaccine was also effective in extending the life of affected dogs. Dogs that had surgery to remove as much of their melanoma as possible and then received the vaccine lived twice as long as those who only had surgery.
Additional studies on other vaccinations are now taking place. The University of Pennsylvania is currently researching the efficacy of a vaccine to fight bone cancer. This disease, even with current treatments, has an average survival time of just one year but the results of the vaccine trials are very positive. An Australian dog with advanced liver cancer has been treated with a vaccination made from her own tumor, and she is doing well. If this method of fighting cancer is successful with one type of tumor, then it may well be effective against other types too.
Could a Human Vaccine be on the Horizon?
Another exciting aspect of treating canine cancer with vaccinations is that this technique may also be useful in the treatment of human tumors. Cancer in dogs is very similar to cancer in people, which is why they are treated with the same methods that are used to treat us. Scientists can learn a great deal from their vaccination work with dogs and this information can then be used to develop a similar treatment for people.
Vaccinations against cancer in dogs are still in the early stages, but so far the results are very promising. The idea that cancer could be defeated with a vaccine was once considered unrealistic, but now it is looking more and more possible. Immunology appears to be an important tool in the treatment of cancer in both animals and humans, and our canine companions are leading the way in its development.
Guest author is a licensed veterinarian and the lead invisible fence expert for eXtreme Dog Fence. Susan Wright educates dog lovers on the benefits of strong boundaries.