Patient Profile - Dipper's Story

Dipper has been part of the family since before Mackenzie was born. Mackenzie, who just finished first grade, loves to play with Dipper, a golden retriever and samoyed mix. One day last year, Dipper was not her usual active self: she had no appetite and was lethargic. When the dog started to vomit, Mackenzie and her parents knew something was really wrong and rushed Dipper to the veterinarian. The vet drew a blood sample and performed a liver function test, which revealed some abnormalities. An ultrasound indicated that Dipper had some small tumors that might be cancerous.

Dipper's care illustrates how many of the diagnostic and therapeutic procedures used in humans are being applied to veterinary care. In fact, these procedures were initially developed and their safety and efficacy first demonstrated in animal studies. Both humans and animals have benefited from the latest techniques for noninvasive diagnostics, such as ultrasounds and MRI scans, improvements in surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, new drugs for pain relief and the increase in our basic understanding of cancer.

In a recent article in "The Scientist", E. Gregory MacEwen, DVM, a clinical veterinary oncologist, commented on the striking similarities between the incidence, biological behavior, and response to therapy of cancer in humans and animals. The genetic basis of many human cancers may be similar in dogs and cats. For example, mutations in the BRCA1 gene are linked to an increased risk for breast cancer in humans; the BRCA1 gene in dogs is very similar to the human gene, and some believe that breast cancers in dogs may be associated with mutations similar to those found in women. Little is known about the causes of cancer in dogs and cats, although scientists think that diet and exposure to environmental pollutants may play a role, as they do in humans.

Dipper's veterinarian conducted a liver biopsy, a procedure that was perfected in animal studies. The results were good! Dipper's tumors were not malignant. Careful monitoring of the tumors is currently part of the routine veterinary care, including rabies vaccines and teeth cleaning, that keep Dipper happy and healthy. Now at ten years old, Dipper is still as frisky as Mackenzie's new Scottish terrier puppy, Luke. Thanks to the advances in veterinary medicine made possible by animal research, Dipper and Luke can both look forward to many trips to the park with Mackenzie.

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