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Norwich Bulletin - 7/13/2008

What Do You Do When Your Dog or Cat is Diagnosed With Cancer

I have had several calls lately about cats and dogs who are under ten years old and have developed some type of cancer. We are a society that loves their pets and will do anything for them.

But cancer in an animal companion is usually terminal. I started thinking about Merlot and how he is on a clinical trial for his kidney failure which is working remarkably well. So perhaps there are clinical trials to combat the different cancers in our dogs and cats.

First we have to acknowledge exactly what a clinical trial is. When scientists believe they have enough preliminary evidence to show that they have developed a potentially better way of treating a disease such as cancer, there next step in the evolution of the drug is to evaluate how good and safe such treatment actually is in real patients.

So before it can be available to the general population, “guinea pigs” are needed. These investigational studies are called clinical trials and they evaluate the safety of the new treatment strategies coming out of the top veterinary research institutions.

Every new drug, whether for animal or human must go through clinical trials that are designed to answer specific scientific questions, figure out if the new therapy is safe, what the side effects are, and if it is better than existing treatments or no treatments at all. Every clinical trial will have a written protocol describing what will be done in the study, how it will be done and why it should be done.

The animals that sign up for the trial will remain in treatment unless there are signs that the new treatment is causing side effects that are too severe. Perhaps there will be one out of hundred who suffer this type of side effect, but then they will be able to warn pet owners what might happen.

The ideas for clinical trials often originate in the laboratory. After laboratory studies that may also include studies on mice or rats, if the study indicates a potential promise of some type of breakthrough, researchers will design a protocol to be used in a trial with larger animals, i.e. dogs and cats.

If your pet was diagnosed with cancer for which there is no effective treatment or your pet did not respond well to a traditional treatment, it makes sense to enroll in one of the available clinical trials that may provide you with an option to try new drug therapies. Because it is experimental in nature, if your pet is accepted into the trial, treatment is often available at decreased or no cost to you.

Your pet may not benefit from the trial and although it is poor comfort when grieving for an animal companion, your pet’s participation will help pave the way for the development of better and more successful treatment methods in the future. Trials are not obligatory and you are free to remove your pet from the trial at any point in time. It is your decision at all times.

I thought long and hard about putting Merlot into a clinical trial but for me the alternative was death and I was striving to keep him alive and in good condition as long as possible. So far for Merlot (and me), it is working.

There are 4 different cancer clinical trials. Prevention tests new approaches to prevent or slow down the development of cancer. These trials are conducted in pets who have never had cancer but could have increased risk for whatever reason, or they may have had cancer and it is in remission from a previous treatment. This is a more benign clinical trial in that it typically involves existing drugs, and other ingestive ingredients that doctors may believe could lower the risk of developing a certain type of cancer.

The screening clinical trials test new ways to detect cancer at its earliest stage. The goal, of course, is to find a way to detect a particular cancer before any symptoms occur as this will allow the best chance for survival.

The hardest to take a chance on (which is where I am with Merlot) is the treatment clinical trial which test new drugs, surgical procedures, radiation and novel treatment ideas. This is a very important trial and the one you take the most chance with. But if your animal has cancer and the prognosis is poor, it is worth the chance.

The Quality of Life clinical trials are trials that test new ways of providing comfort and pain control in order to keep a good quality of life going for your pet.

There are no easy decisions when it comes to bargaining for the life of your pet. But sometimes we are faced with choices and the right choice is to go ahead and take that chance. For more information on the available cancer clinical trials, please visit www.petcancercenter.org.

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