Pet Doc: Immunotherapy for fighting cancer


Question: no one wants to hear that their pet has cancer, but cancer in our pets is a reality. What are some ways that veterinarians treat cancer in our pets?

Answer: there are four main ways that cancer is treated in our pets. One is through surgery, the second way is through chemotherapy, the third way is by radiation therapy and the fourth way is by immunotherapy.

Question: just how common is cancer in our pets?

Answer: the American Cancer Institute estimates that approximately twelve million dogs and cats are diagnosed with cancer each year, cancer in our pets is a major health concern for veterinary medicine.

Question: immunotherapy, what is it?

Answer: immunotherapy has to do with the body’s own immune system scripting it to help selectively attack and destroy cancer cells.

Question: is immunotherapy a new way to fight cancer?

answer: most people would say yes but immunotherapy was first developed about on hundred years ago, and it had some degree of success at that time. Unfortunately, immunotherapy research was put on indefinite hold after the initial experimentation. It took nearly sixty years for immunotherapy to get started again which occurred in the last four decades. Considerable support and research and has found it to be effective against certain types of cancer. Most of the immunotherapy research has been in humans, but more recently it has gained strong support and aggressive research on the animal side.

Question: how is immunotherapy used in its battle to destroy cancer cells?

Answer: immunotherapy can be used by itself or in combination with other ways to fight cancer such as after a surgical removal of a cancer or along with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The thing that makes immunotherapy so promising is the way it can be specifically targeted against cancer cells without doing a lot of damage to normal cells.

Question: there vaccines that are developed to help the body’s own immune system fight cancer tell us about them.

Answer: the immune system attacks potentially cancerous cells everyday destroying them before they can get started, but sometimes the body does not recognize these abnormal cells as a danger and allows them to grow unchecked. These cells are so similar to normal cells that the immune system cannot tell them apart. Cancer researchers have discovered that many cancer cells have what is called a surface marker which is only present on the surface of the cancer cells. This surface marker is the key; a vaccine is made that directs the body's antibodies to specifically attack the surface marker on the cancer cell leaving the normal cells uninvolved. More and more surface markers are being discovered, which may lead to a vaccine that creates antibodies against that marker, when the surface marker is attacked by the antibodies, the cancer cell itself is destroyed.

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