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INTERPRETING NEWS ABOUT CARCINOGENS

Online news reports, articles, and social media forums claim that certain substances are carcinogenic; this can be distressing. These sources warn pet owners to avoid some pet products, medications, or foods, but they often do not accurately represent the outcomes of cancer studies.

There are ways you can distinguish between factual news articles and ones that might share misinformation or overstate scientific claims. Consider the following questions:

    1. Who wrote the article, and where was it posted? 
    2. When checking the credibility of the information, you may look for author credentials such as an MD (doctor), DVM (vet), or a graduate degree like a master’s or Ph.D. You can also determine if the author comes from a university, a pharmaceutical company, a magazine, a newspaper, or another source. The information is likely trustworthy if the author is qualified, and the article comes from a scientific source where the author’s peers have reviewed the work. On the contrary, if the article is an opinion piece or written to sell a product, you must be wary of the accuracy of the information.

    1. What is the source of information? 
    2. It is a good sign if the article provides a bibliography at the end. Scroll down to the bottom of the written piece to find a list of references. Be aware of articles without cited material. Consider contacting the author for their reference material or searching for other articles reporting similar research.

    1. Is the information featured in a reputable source? 
    2. If the article you are reading has citations, the next step is to determine if these are from high-quality and reputable sources. Examples of credible sources include those reviewed by the author’s scientific peers. Examples include the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, not-for-profit advocacy websites such as the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Veterinary Cancer Society and Academy of Internal Medicine, but there are many more. You are most likely to find evidence-based information from these sources. The information may not be as credible if the article cites another news article.

    1. Does the information apply to you and your pet? 
    2. After establishing the source’s credibility, you can determine if the research is relevant to you and your pet. Laboratory-based studies help identify carcinogens by examining the effect of chemicals on cells, tissues, or animals. Studies conducted on cells or tissues determine whether a chemical causes unusual growth at the cellular level. Although these studies provide valuable information, the results might not directly translate to the effect on mammals with functioning immune systems. Therefore, the next step is to conduct studies using humane animal models, where researchers administer the chemical in question, at varying doses, including those higher than a pet may ever encounter. Thus, before coming to any conclusions, read several articles on the subject to help you determine what is most relevant to you and your pet.

Carcinogen exposure in pets

Limiting carcinogen exposure will reduce your pet’s chance of cancer development. However, you can sometimes unknowingly expose your pet to harmful substances. If you suspect your pet has encountered a potential carcinogen, keep the following in mind:

    • Amount of exposure. Cancer takes time to develop, and a one-time exposure is rarely a concern. However, exposure to a low dose of a carcinogen over a prolonged time may cause cancer, while more significant amounts over a shorter time may also cause cancer.
    • Age of your pet. Some studies using animal models suggest an increased risk of cancer if the animals are exposed to a carcinogen when they are young compared to when they are older.
    • Types of cancer. A substance may only increase the risk for certain cancer types because carcinogens tend to target specific types of organs. Although factors such as where carcinogens are in the environment and how your pet metabolizes them may explain why particular organs suffer the harmful effects. However, in most cases, the reasons for such specificity remain speculative.

Summary

Whenever possible, reduce your pet’s interaction with cancer-causing substances. Some exposures are unavoidable, and not all are identical, but if you can avoid environments that may harm your pet, the risk of cancer development will decrease. If you discover that your pet has encountered harmful substances, seek advice from your vet on how to proceed.

We hope that the information provided here will make you feel more confident and knowledgeable about making informed decisions for your pets regarding carcinogen exposure.

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: July 13, 2022

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

Barnes, JL, Zubair, M, John, K, Poirier, MC & Martin, FL 2018, ‘Carcinogens and DNA damage’, Biochem Soc Trans, vol. 46, no. 5, pp.1213-1224.

Barton, HA, Cogliano, VJ, Flowers, L, Valcovic L, Setzer, RW & Woodruff, TJ 2005, ‘Assessing susceptibility from early-life exposure to carcinogens’, Environ Health Perspect, vol. 113, no. 9, pp.1125-1133.

Soffritti, M, Belpoggi, F, Degli Esposti, D & Lambertini, L 2006, ‘Results of a long-term carcinogenicity bioassay on Sprague-Dawley rats exposed to sodium arsenite administered in drinking water’, Ann NY Acad Sci, vol. 1076, pp. 578–591.

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

For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.