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Approval of canine cancer drug applauded by Waco vets

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Buzz up! By Mike Copeland Tribune-Herald business editor

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Local veterinarians applauded news Wednesday that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug made specifically to treat cancer in dogs.

“You bet I would use it,” said Dr. Ray Emerson, a veterinarian of 45 years who treats dogs for cancer with chemotherapy and surgery.

Until now, all cancer drugs used in veterinary medicine were developed for use in humans and weren’t specifically approved for animals. Federal law allows vets to administer cancer medicines and other human treatments under controlled circumstances.

The new drug, Palladia, manufactured by Pfizer Animal Health Inc., has been approved to treat a type of cancer that accounts for about one in five cases of canine skin tumors. Canine cutaneous mast cell tumors can appear small and insignificant when dogs have them, but while some are easily removed, others can lead to life-threatening diseases, according to the FDA.

Emerson said he has not yet heard much about Palladia but would welcome its availability. He said people may not realize how much treatment of all types of cancers goes on in clinics like his.

“Most clinics basically use chemotherapy, but if a combination of chemotherapy and radiation is required, the animal is taken to an oncologist in Dallas or to Texas A&M,” Emerson said.

He added that some dogs with cancer can be made to feel better, though not necessarily cured, with the use of steroids.

Emerson said he does see skin cancer in his practice, but the most common cancer he encounters in dogs is breast cancer.

“Our therapy for those primarily is surgery,” Emerson said.

He said when a female dog is spayed it serves two purposes: It prevents her from having unwanted puppies, but it also makes her about 90 percent less likely to develop breast tumors.

Waco veterinarian Nicole Hudspeth said Palladia already has been in limited use among animal oncologists, and she would welcome the opportunity to try it on her canine cancer patients.

“It works by making the dog’s immune system attack a particular protein in abnormal cells. The immune system essentially kills these cells,” Hudspeth said. “I believe it could have human applications, as well.”

Hudspeth said treatment of animals for cancer is not cheap.

“It sometimes costs a few hundred dollars to remove a growth, and extended treatment could run well into the thousands,” she said.

Costly but important

Still, Emerson said, people remain devoted to their pets even in tough economic times. His business remains stable.

“They play a large role in our society,” Emerson said of pets. “They help settle humans during hectic times.”

Dr. Luann Ervin of the Texas Animal Medical Center in Waco said she was excited to hear about Palladia and the FDA’s ruling.

“I would certainly offer it, anything to save an animal’s life,” said Ervin, who does offer a drug regimen for cancer-stricken critters. “We have a dog here now we’re treating for lung cancer.”

Dr. Heather Wilson, a veterinary oncologist at Texas A&M University, said the school stays busy treating cancer in animals that some local clinics do not have the resources to handle.

She said 50 percent of all dogs and 30 percent of all cats older than age 10 will develop cancer.

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With the risk of being perceived as some sort of nutcase, I want to applaud this news. You see, Murphy, my best friend dog before Teddy (in my avatar) was diagnosed with cancer. We were referred to an animal cancer expert 45 minutes away from home. We chose to have Murphy treated. Every Saturday morning for several months I would drive the 45 minutes and he'd have treatment and evaluations. Fred actually took his vacation so when it came time for chemo, one of us could take him every day. In fact, when it came MY time for chemo so many years later, I realized that dear dog taught me how to cope. Anyhow, this vet is an amazing woman. She travels the world going to oncology seminars. But get this, the seminars are about HUMAN oncology. Apparently there is a close link between cancer tx for canines and humans. So before dismissing this as a frivolous thing, please consider that the findings at some point may become a valuable resource for us humans.

And FYI, we got a couple of GREAT years with Murphy and he had a wonderful quality of life. When the cancer returned, being 3 years older, we declined tx offered. We don't tell many the story of what we did with the tx, but thought the folks here would understand.

Teddy's good canine buddy up the street was dx with lung cancer. I know that Tucker never smoked or lived with smokers or worked with asbestos or anything. He went to the same vet. Tucker was given only a 30 day prognosis. But I pause to think what could have come from what was learned about LC if he had been given more of a chance.


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I held Daisy, Deb's Pup in my arms as she died of cancer that was too far along to be treated so I really appreciate things like this !!!

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