Treating the Problem
Many of these dogs, however, can be saved with proper treatment. Through the Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program they get the care they need to survive; and through this care they also become more adoptable.
All of the dogs we have treated have been adopted or placed in permanent foster care. The program provides complete and lifelong mammary tumor care for all the homeless dogs enrolled in our program. This includes:
- Screening (to evaluate general health)
- Tumor staging (to determine how advanced the tumor is)
- Tumor surgery, including ovariohysterectomy, histopathological evaluation of all tumors
- Follow-up (including regular exams to monitor for recurrences or metastasis for the remainder of the dogs’ life)
The follow-up exams are crucial for our program, both for the dogs’ health, but also for the research mission.
Mammary tumors remain the most common tumor in intact female dogs, and therefore a significant health problem leading to morbidity and premature death throughout the world in this particular subgroup of the dog population. Surgery remains the standard of care, and dogs with benign or low-risk malignant tumors are often treated effectively with surgery alone.
Dogs with more advanced tumors or aggressive histopathology, however, need systemic therapy in addition to surgery. The effectiveness of such systemic therapy, however, remains controversial, and very few prospective studies have been performed.
One of the other clinical challenges in this disease is that it is not “one” disease but rather a heterogeneous, diverse disease, both from a clinical, histopathological and biological aspect. Therefore it can be difficult to determine when to advocate systemic therapy and what to use.
The progress within mammary tumor research in the United States, however, has been hampered by the fact that most dogs seen at veterinary schools are spayed at a relatively early age and thus the incidence of mammary tumors is low, making it difficult to make new discoveries. The Penn vet Canine Mammary Tumor program has changed this and has enabled us to perform high quality clinical and basic research on this disease.
Translational and Comparative Research
Spontaneous tumors in companion animals represent an untapped resource in cancer research and offer a unique opportunity to study cancer in a natural setting and thus capture the dynamic molecular and biological changes associated with tumor progression as well as the complex interactions between tumor and the microenvironment. Such research may have direct applications to cancer in humans, and falls under the slogan “One Health.”
Canine mammary tumors and breast cancer in women have many similarities in terms of epidemiology, biology, dietary risk factors, clinical behavior as well as hormonal association. Treatment failures resulting in recurrence and eventually death remain the major obstacle in breast cancer treatment for both dogs and women.
Because dogs typically have 10 mammary glands and often develop tumors in several glands at the same time, they present a unique research opportunity, enabling scientists to study lesions that are at different stages of development — from benign to cancerous, and at transitional stages — all in the same animal.
The Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program offers an unparalleled opportunity to study cancer in a natural setting and capture the dynamic molecular and biological changes associated with tumor development and progression, as well as the complex interactions between tumor and the microenvironment.
At the University of Pennsylvania, the Perleman School of Medicine, Abramson Cancer Center and School of Veterinary Medicine, including basic and clinical departments, are located within a few blocks of each other. As a result, Penn is perfectly positioned to capitalize on this model and make significant contributions to cancer research.
We have a unique model and we have put together a collaborative diverse team with expertise within the area of tumor microenvironment research, clinical veterinary oncology specifically canine mammary tumor and human breast cancer. This is truly a transdisciplinary team and we in an excellent position to fill in some of the major gaps in our understanding of mammary tumor and breast cancer biology. Our research may benefit both dogs with mammary tumors and women with breast cancer.