Cancer was a prime topic for us at the hospital last week. It’s frightening to think about all of the varieties of cancer that we see. ANY tissue can give rise to a tumor or a cell line that is malignant: oral tissue, lymph nodes, a residual organ in the chest (the thymus), bone, liver, spleen, intestine, blood vessels, bladder, skin. Those are some of the common types that we see. I personally diagnosed an intestinal and oral tumor. A specialist found the tumor in a dog’s chest that I expected to be there. Not a good week.
On a positive note, there’s a lot that can be done for these cases. As we’ve discussed before, “cure” in the veterinary oncology field isn’t common. We can, however, give most animals and owners more time together. Good time, in which the pets are feeling well enough to have good quality of life.
The other nice part about cancer is that when owners ask about it being contagious, I can say, “No, it’s not contagious.” In all but one case, that’s a true statement. There is one cancer type that’s contagious. It’s a transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT), which is spread by sexual contact between dogs. It’s a surface tumor like a nasty, bleeding wart.
The only other known contagious cancer is a tumor that affects Tasmanian Devils. That one is spread by bites on the face. It may well wipe out the Tasmanian Devil population to the point of extinction.
Jumping back to the dogs, an article was published this week that details some of the other interesting things that have been learned about CTVT. It’s about 11,000 years old. It arose from a malamute and showed that there was either inbreeding or an isolated population in which this cancer arose. The rest of the article can be found here.
The take-home message here is this: cancer is a nasty, wicked disease that we are still struggling to understand and cope with. It kills 500,000 people a year in the US. The more we can learn from other species, the better we’ll understand cancer in people, too. The only hope we have for a cure is to continue to study and learn.