Canine Cancer Is Leading to New Discoveries in Human Cancer Treatment

dogs help advance human cancer treatment

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dogs and humans have more than 80 percent genetic similarity and, when viewed under a microscope, a dog’s tumor is indistinguishable from a human’s
  • The field of comparative oncology teams veterinary and medical oncologists who study naturally occurring cancers in animals to further human and animal cancer treatment
  • Dogs are an ideal model for studying cancer in humans, and “man’s best friend” has made significant contributions to furthering human knowledge of this disease, especially pertaining to the new, metabolic theory of why cancer occurs

By Dr. Becker

When researchers mapped out the human and canine genomes, something striking was found: dogs and humans have more than 80 percent genetic similarity. Meanwhile, cancer rates are on the rise in both species and, when viewed under a microscope, a dog's tumor is indistinguishable from a human's.1

Even the genetic mutations that may be a result of abnormal cellular respiration and turn on oncogenes that trigger cancer are often the same in dogs and people. Taken together, this makes dogs an ideal model for studying cancer in humans, and "man's best friend" has made significant contributions to furthering human knowledge of this disease.

Dr. Mercola has covered the topic of cancer as a metabolic disease extensively on his site. This past year I've had the honor of interviewing some of the top metabolic scientists in the field of cancer metabolism research for the upcoming dog cancer documentary by Rodney Habib.

Seeing firsthand what these scientists are discovering about the changes in cell respiration that occur when the mitochondria become damaged has convinced me that more focus (and funding) should be directed to studying the metabolic roots of this disease. The research conducted at KetoPet Sanctuary on the role of nutrition in cancer metabolism is also a critically important, emerging field we (in the holistic vet community) have been patiently waiting for.

By instituting a strict 120-day ketogenic diet for canine cancer patients (as a part of an entire anti-cancer protocol) KetoPet can boast of some remarkable results in slowing, halting and reversing many types of cancers. This novel, highly effective nutritional approach to cancer has turned oncologists' heads worldwide, both in the human and companion animal realm.

The KetoPet Sanctuary program was designed to understand through case studies, the impact of a ketogenic diet on canine cancers. Because a variety of tumor models were studied, a spectrum of response was observed, the most favorable being seen in early stage cancers.

Additionally, PET/CT scans offered direct insight into disease progression, and survivorship was increased past the point of prognosis in many cases, often times in combination with standard of care. KetoPet is also a forever home for the doggies it rescues, focusing on bringing dogs out of the shelter environment, who are at risk of being euthanized because they have cancer.

Comparative Oncology Programs Benefit Pets and People

Dogs make excellent research subjects for a number of reasons, including the fact that their cancer develops naturally, unlike in rodent studies in which cancer must be artificially induced. Meanwhile, pet owners interested in seeking specialized cancer treatment for their pets may sign their dog (and in some cases cat) up for a clinical trial.

The Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program, for instance, helps homeless dogs with mammary cancer to get treatment and make them adoptable while furthering human knowledge of the molecular and biological changes associated with tumor development and progression. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center for Cancer Research, which has its own comparative oncology program:2

"More than 30 years ago, optimization of bone marrow transplantation protocols was undertaken in pet dogs with lymphoma. Since then, the work of clinical veterinary oncologists in using naturally occurring cancers in animals to better understand and treat cancer in humans has been referred to as comparative oncology."

In the U.S. alone, where there are about 65 million pet dogs and 32 million pet cats, it's estimated that 6 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed in dogs (and another 6 million in cats) annually. According to NCI, by studying these spontaneous cancers, which in many cases have the same tumor biology and behavior as human cancers, it's hoped researchers will be able to not only alleviate suffering in pets with cancer but also better:3

  1. Understand environmental risk factors for cancer.
  2. Examine genetic/familial determinants for cancer predispositions seen in some dog breeds.
  3. Develop and optimize novel cancer and gene imaging systems.
  4. Evaluate novel therapeutic strategies for a variety of cancers.
  5. Add biological relevance to genomics data generated from microarray and other molecular techniques.

In the case of KetoPet Sanctuary, the enlightening information they've learned about the important role of nutrition in cancer therapy has already benefitted human patients across the U.S. Their success in treating dog cancer allowed KetoPet's parent charity, the Epigenix Foundation, the opportunity to begin several pilot studies looking at the impact of a ketogenic diet on human brain and breast cancers across the U.S.

Cancer Treatments That Are Successful in Dogs Are Often Successful in People

Because dogs and people share so much similar DNA and develop similar types of cancer, treatments that prove to be successful in dogs often prove to be successful in people as well. STAT News reported:4

"[A] bone cancer known as osteosarcoma is so similar between dogs and people that intensive research in canine osteosarcoma has led to several breakthroughs in treating osteosarcoma in children. Limb-saving surgical techniques for safe and effective reconstruction following bone tumor surgery in dogs are now the standard of care in children following bone tumor surgery.

More recently, a form of immunotherapy was shown to drastically improve survival in dogs with bone cancer by delaying or altogether preventing spread of the cancer to the lungs. As a result of the success in dogs, the FDA granted fast-track status to the same treatment for use in humans last April [2016]."

Comparative Oncology Aims to Help Pets With Cancer, Too

The information gained from comparative oncology is intended to benefit cancer treatment in both humans and animals. There are exciting immune-augmentative therapies in the works, for instance, that help a patient's immune system to more effectively fight the cancer.

Research is underway evaluating various immunotherapeutic agents in both dogs and people, with the hope that it will directly benefit treatment of both species. If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, you can ask your veterinarian about the possibility of enrolling in a clinical trial.

Be aware, however, that there are always risks involved and you won't necessarily know what treatment your dog is (or is not) receiving. In some cases, such trials may give a dog that would otherwise pass away a chance at recovery. In other cases, your dog may be better off with a different holistic treatment path.

When I spoke with fellow holistic veterinarian Dr. Nancy Scanlan earlier this year, she shared several natural strategies for treating cancer in dogs:

"There are two main things," she said. "One is to help the immune system itself. There are two main groups of herbs that really help it out. One is the whole mushroom family. There are a number of mushroom products out there.

They have done research on mushrooms and they actually stimulate the cells of the immune system in ways that are similar to immuno-augmentative therapy in humans. They make immune system cells stronger, more active and able to make more of the little chemical messengers.

The second way is there are Chinese herbs that are really helpful and that specifically stimulate the immune system. In Chinese medicine, they call that Wei Chi. In addition, there are herbs that actually have specific effects on cancer cells.

They're not doing anything with the immune system, but they help beat back the cancer. They reveal the hidden markers and things like that. Things in the astragalus family or Chinese medicine with astragalus as part of the formula, formulas that have red clover in them, things like essiac and hoxsey.

There are a lot of them out there. Some are more effective than others. But holistic vets are familiar with them. We try to use the ones that have the most support behind them."

Determining the Best Cancer Treatment Path for Your Pet

There's no doubt that dogs are providing researchers with invaluable information in the war against cancer, and many dogs are benefitting as a direct result.

However, if your dog or cat is diagnosed with cancer, or you are concerned about your pet's future health, my first recommendation is to team up with an integrative/holistic veterinarian, as most conventional vets have very limited knowledge in the use of nutrition, supplements and other alternative treatments for cancer.

And one of the very first things you should do if you haven't already is transition your pet to a raw, species-appropriate diet rich in antioxidants, healthy fats and fatty acids and ultra-low carbohydrates. You can learn more about instituting the ketogenic diet by reading more on the KetoPet website and contacting them directly.

If you can't make a homemade, ketogenic diet I recommend you buy a commercially available, fresh food diet designed to fight cancer. From there, your dog or cat may benefit from adjunctive therapies like hyperbaric oxygen therapy, IV antioxidant therapy, medicinal mushrooms and other natural substances, which your integrative veterinarian can recommend. If there's no progressive veterinarian in your area, keep in mind that some holistic veterinarians also do phone consultations to get your pet the help she needs.