Helping Humans and Dogs with Breast Cancer

The University of Pennsylvania, College of Veterinary Medicine has joined the fight against breast cancer in women as well as dogs. Lead by Dr. Karin Sorenmo, a veterinary oncologist and Dr. Olga Troyanskaya, a bioinformatics professor at Pinceton, the team studies how breast cancer develops at the molecular level. The program accepts shelter dogs with breast cancer that would otherwise be euthanized.

Here’s how it works: Shelter dogs are enrolled in the Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program. The first step is surgical removal of the tumors. Next, the samples are divided in half. One half go to pathology for diagnosis and analysis of the margins. The other goes to Dr. Troyanskaya who analyzes the genes. She looks at changes in how a gene or several genes transform a tumor from benign to malignant.

Dogs are a good model for human breast cancer for two reasons. First, just like humans they develop breast cancer in response to exposure to estrogen. The practice of spaying dogs and cats at a young age protects them from mammary gland cancer.  This is one reason among many to spay your pets.  Second, dogs have ten glands. In dogs who develop breast cancer, it is common for them to have it in multiple glands. The tumors are in various stages giving the researchers a rare chance to study the progression of cancer.

The Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program has treated over 100 dogs. Many of these dogs would have been euthanized because of the cancer. Instead, they received medical care and a chance to find a new home. Some have even been adopted by women who are breast cancer survivors. I hope they wear pink collars to celebrate their status as survivors!

-Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program,
-Rabin, Roni Caryn. From Dogs, Answers About Breast Cancer. The New York Times, www/, March 31, 2014.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.