November 6th is the second National Canine Lymphoma Awareness Day. It was established last year by noted dog trainer Terry Simons, to bring attention to the heartbreaking reality that more than 6 million dogs and 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer this year. ‘Lymphoma’ covers a diverse group of over 30 canine cancers types, and is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in dogs. Specific statistics on breeds and other factors are difficult to come by because there are roughly 300 registered veterinary oncologists in the United States, however roughly 11% of a general practice veterinarian’s caseload is cancer. To support prevention and early detection here are 6 important facts about canine cancer.
1. Early Detection Is Critical
This is obvious, but just like humans the odds of survival and an extended healthy life hinge on how early the disease is detected. Half of all pet cancers are curable if caught early. Symptoms are not always obvious, but paying close attention to your pet as they age and looking for abnormal signs like pale gums, difficulty urinating, distended belly, stiffness, lethargy, and examining new lumps and bumps will aid in detection. Here’s an infographic showing where you can examine your pet for enlarged lymph nodes.
2. Some Breeds are at Higher Risk
In general mixed breed dogs and mutts are at a lower risk to develop cancer, because their traits come from a larger gene pool. And while not all purebred dogs are at elevated risk, certain breeds show higher incidences. Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers, and Great Danes all experience high rates of cancer according to PetMD’s list of breeds with the highest cancer rates. These are all large-breed dogs, and there is evidence to suggest higher cancer rates affect larger dogs over smaller breeds.
3. Studies are Underway to Identify Causes
The American Kennel Club (AKC), Animal Cancer Foundation and others have sponsored or conducted dozens of studies to identify causes and treatments of animal cancers. Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is conducting clinical trials and leading the way in comparative oncology research finding new ways to identify and cure lymphomas in canines and humans. While specific causes remain unknown, like humans, factors such as exposure to chemicals or toxins (lawn fertilizers, etc.), ultraviolet radiation, hormone imbalances and a poorly functioning immune system can cause cancer.
4. Spay and Neutering Help Prevent Cancer
Spaying female dogs has shown to dramatically prevent incidences of all cancer, and the timing matters. The rate of breast cancer in females is virtually zero if they’re spayed before their first heat.
5. Medications are Advancing
The first FDA drug to treat canine cancers was approved in 2009, and since then the industry has come a long way. Today, nearly all the options available for humans are available for pets. Radiation therapy is available in over 40 veterinary clinics in the US and even some drugs developed to treat pets with cancer have been introduced to the pipeline for the human market.
6. Costs for Treatment are Staggering
The appointments and testing needed to diagnose cancer in your pet can cost $200-$1000. Blood tests alone are typically over $100. Of course, the overall cost depends on the required treatment which ranges from removal surgery all the way to bone marrow transplants. Nationwide, the first provider of pet health insurance, received a 10% increase last year in cancer-related claims totaling over $22 million. Having insurance coverage for your pet definitely helps cover costs, and outside of nationwide there are many new companies that offer affordable coverage like PetPlan and healthypaws.