“It’s just a disease; it’s not magic, it’s not evil.”
That was Dr. David Haworth, one of five veterinarians quoted in a special section on cancer in animals in January’s Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Each of the doctors interviewed is a board-certified veterinary oncologist, all Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine’s specialty of oncology.
They are all also members of the Veterinary Cancer Society (VCS), a group begun in 1976. VCS now boasts over 800 members and many are general practitioners who have a special interest in oncology. As pets live longer and become even more integrated into American families, more people are interested in seeking treatment for their pets’ cancers. Dr. Haworth is president of the Morris Animal Foundation, home to the Canine Lifetime Health Project, and its subsidiary study, Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. The research not only focuses on the breed’s apparent predisposition to cancer, but many other maladies associated with aging. The Morris Animal Foundation is affiliated with Hill’s Pet Nutrition, makers of Science Diet and Prescription Diet pet foods. If you think your Golden Retriever might qualify, ask your veterinarian to check in at www.caninelifetimehealth.org.
Dr. Rodney Page is the director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “What I like about the job that I do is the ability to really help people through a critical time, provide some reliable information for them to base a decision on, and to offer hope in a time when it’s really a struggle.”
Dr. Laura Garrett said that many pet owners fear cancer treatment will diminish quality of life. “…we can discuss [with pet owners] how most of the treatments are very well-tolerated.” She goes on to explain that many chemotherapy drugs that were once prohibitively expensive became affordable as generic versions were released.
Dr. Garrett finds it satisfying “to talk to owners about their goals and their expectations; their financial constraints and abilities, what have you, because that does become part of it; and then come up with a plan that is going to work for them. And as long as the pet feels good and the owner is happy with what is going on, then I think we’re doing our job well.”
For most of us, helping animals is sufficient gratification. Dr. Chand Khanna takes cancer research a step further, helping kids as well: he works in comparative oncology at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a department of the federal government. At NCI he studies osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer in dogs and children.
Dr. Khanna also practices at The Oncology Service in Washington, D.C. and Virginia. “As cancer therapies become more effective and as we become more able to discuss cure as an outcome, then the decision-making around cost is really quite different, different than if you’re discussing a treatment that is only going to make something better for a short period of time.”
“To me,” says Dr. Zachary Wright, “a successful outcome is the clients at the end of the road, whenever that may be, are grateful and happy with the results, even if it means three more days or three more years.”
Dr. Wright, an oncologist who treats patients and participates in clinical trials at VCA Animal Diagnostic Clinic in Dallas, TX, goes on to say, “I view cancer research as the last frontier. We’ve explored Alaska, we’ve gone to the moon, but no one is curing cancer yet. I don’t think I’m going to be that person, but it’s really exciting to just play even a small part in this great process.”
Dr. Haworth said that when he was growing up in the 70s, cancer seemed to be a death sentence even for people. He believes cancer has transformed from a terrible diagnosis to a more manageable disease, both for people and for pets.
See you next week, Dr. Randolph.