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The future is bright! Research on pet cancers and their treatment is growing. There are many clinical trials underway to identify more precise treatments for pets. The primary objective of these clinical trials is to find a less toxic or more effective treatment for cancer.

Many naturally occurring cancers in pet animals closely resemble human cancer and provide meaningful systems for cancer research to benefit both humans and animals.

Clinical trials may involve novel diagnostic methods or therapies including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgical procedures, hypo- or hyperthermia, immunotherapy, and photodynamic therapy, among others.  While most clinical research trials are conducted at colleges of veterinary medicine, a growing number of specialty referral practices are participating in clinical research.  Although the safety and efficacy of “experimental,” or “investigational,” new therapies and procedures have often been evaluated first in laboratory animals as well as normal dogs or cats, the therapy is also considered to be of potential benefit to the patient. Adherence to the treatment protocol is of vital importance to ensure that the protocol is followed as planned, such that the results are both reliable and meaningful.  Any deviation in the pet’s health or management (including medications and supplements) must be reported to the trial’s institution. 

As with humans, the biggest challenge vets face is choosing the right type of treatment for each cancer diagnosis. No “one size fits all” treatment or “miracle” drug is suitable for all pets.

One recently introduced approach to determining more accurate pet cancer treatment is precision medicine, an exciting new treatment option in veterinary oncology that may make a major difference in how we approach cancer therapy in pets. Traditionally, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery have been the sole means of treating pets with cancer. Although these treatments are very well tolerated, we may have maximized the survival times achievable with these modalities. 

Precision medicine uses cutting-edge technology to analyze your pet’s DNA to uncover the best treatment option(s). How your pet’s DNA looks can allow specialists to determine the drugs that may provide the most effective, and least toxic cancer-fighting response. For example, instead of giving a standard chemotherapeutic drug that is commonly used to treat a particular type of cancer, a unique treatment can be designed for each individual pet based on its genetic makeup. As a result, DNA testing can save you time, stress, and financial burden caused by less effective strategies.

In veterinary medicine, there are three major categories of precision medicine, as follows:

  • Genetic Sequencing – This type of medicine can find in your pet’s tumors abnormal DNA genetic material (mutations) that caused cancer. It will allow the veterinary oncologist to recommend targeted drugs to treat those specific mutations. Many of the recommended targeted therapies are oral drugs that are compounded specifically for your pet and administered at home. Although the treatments are administered orally at home, the veterinary oncology team will still have to give your pet routine recheck examinations and diagnostic tests to ensure that it is safe to continue with the treatments and that they are effective for your pet’s cancer. Tumor types commonly treated using genomic sequencing include splenic and non-splenic hemangiosarcoma, transitional cell carcinoma, melanomas, anal sac adenocarcinoma, osteosarcoma, mast cell tumors, B-cell lymphoma, and many more.
  • Immunotherapy – A method that identifies ways to customize treatments using your pet’s immune system to fight cancer. One commonly used form of immunotherapy in veterinary medicine is the autologous cancer vaccine, which is created from your pet’s specific tumor. If your pet is a candidate for an autologous cancer vaccine, then your veterinary oncologist will submit the tumor biopsy to determine the type of cancer and to develop the vaccine. The vaccines are created from the whole tumor tissue, which means that it includes inactivated mutated tumor cells as well as the extracellular matrix, which is the support structure of the tumor. The benefits of using whole tissue vaccines are that part of their composition includes relevant tumor antigens (targets for the immune system) and can be produced without knowing the specific antigens of your pet’s tumor. Additionally, tumor vaccines are well-tolerated and seem to work well in human oncology. Lastly, tumor vaccines may be less expensive than chemotherapy, and it is another treatment option for pet parents who do not want to use chemotherapy in treating their pet’s cancer.
  • Targeted therapies – These therapies act on specific molecular targets that are associated with cancer, whereas most traditional chemotherapies act on all rapidly dividing cancerous and normal cells. Chemotherapy and targeted therapy are both treatments that attack cancer cells. However, targeted therapy is less toxic to healthy cells than chemotherapy, and both options are often done in conjunction with other treatments such as surgery and radiation therapy. Currently, there are two veterinary-approved targeted therapies in veterinary medicine:
    • The first treatment is the only therapy that inhibits blood vessel development and rapid cell overgrowth specifically developed for the treatment of canine cancer. It also specifically targets mutations in cancer cells. This medication is administered orally at home and is used to treat a variety of tumor types including mast cell tumors, thyroid carcinomas, anal sac adenocarcinomas, and many more.
    • The second treatment is the first FDA-conditionally approved oral tablet to treat lymphoma, and it specifically targets nuclear transport within the cancer cell. Lymphoma is the most diagnosed cancer in dogs, so this provides another treatment option for lymphoma and may be a good option for pet parents who do not want to use injectable chemotherapy for treatment.

Remember, most cancers have treatment options. Although it depends on the type and stage of your pet’s cancer, it means that you and your pet may still spend many happy months or even years together. Schedule regular checkups with your vet if your pet is undergoing cancer treatment and keep putting one foot in front of the other. That is the best you can do for yourself and your pet.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s Website Editorial team is comprised of veterinarians, veterinary oncologists, and veterinary technicians, as well as scientific writers and editors who have attained their PhD’s in the life sciences, along with general editors and research assistants. All content found in this section goes through an extensive process with multiple review stages, to ensure this extended resource provides pet families with the most up-to-date information publicly available.

The team listing of those contributing to the information on this page is here:

Keep Your Pets Healthy Editorial Team

Last Updated: October 10, 2022

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The following sources were referenced to write the content on this page: 

Fonseca-Alves, CE, Palmieri, C, Dagli, MLZ & Laufer-Amorim, R 2021, ‘Editorial: precision medicine in veterinary oncology’, Front Vet Sci, vol. 8, pp. 718891- 718892.

Kosorok, MR & Laber EB 2019, ‘Precision medicine’, Annu Rev Stat Appl,vol. 6, pp. 263-286.

Pang, LY, Argyle DJ 2016, Veterinary oncology: Biology, big data and precision medicine. The Veterinary Journal, vol. 213, pp. 38-45.

Veterinary Cancer Society, Clinical Trials, Veterinary Cancer Society, viewed October 8, 2022, http://vetcancersociety.org/pet-owners/clinical-trials/

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s medical resource for pet owners is protected by copyright.

For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.