A diagnosis of cancer in a beloved pet is undeniably terrifying, but it is important to remember that many cancers are treatable, if not curable. Sometimes, treatment can be handled by the pet’s “regular” veterinarian. In other cases, referral to a veterinary oncologist or other specialist is best. But what is an owner to do when the specialists have nothing more to offer?
Most owners will either switch to a palliative model of care or elect euthanasia when (or before) their pet’s condition reaches this point, and there is nothing wrong with that decision. Another option does exist, however. Just as is the case in human medicine, once standard treatment options are no longer applicable, veterinary cancer patients can access clinical trials.
Some participants in a clinical trial receive a form of treatment that has not yet been shown to be beneficial while others receive either standard therapies or placebos, depending on how the study is designed and what is most humane for the patients involved. Owners will not know which type of treatment their pet is receiving until the end of the trial. Researchers attempt to determine the safety and efficacy of the new therapy by measuring and comparing a variety of parameters in all of the participants.
Veterinarians associated with teaching hospitals and referral centers frequently perform clinical trials for cancer treatments to improve upon the options that are currently available. Unfortunately, determining whether or not a clinical trial is available that fits a pet’s diagnosis and stage of disease progression requires a lot of legwork. I am generally aware of a few clinical trials that are available through my local veterinary school, but other than that, I’m in the dark just like my clients.
This situation might soon be improving. A new service is available that is trying to improve patient access to veterinary clinical trials. The National Veterinary Cancer Registry is in the process of collecting and analyzing “information from pet-owners and veterinarians about pets that have been diagnosed with various forms of naturally-occurring diseases (most often, cancer).”
This information will be used to advance the care and treatment of animals with cancers with the hope of eventually matching animals with relevant clinical studies. Our ultimate goal is to enhance the treatment of both human and veterinary cancers through the collection and dissemination of new information regarding cancer therapies.
The registry will allow owners and veterinarians to share detailed information about their pet’s disease in an anonymous and confidential fashion. It will also allow pet owners to connect with other people whose pets have similar diagnoses and discuss treatment options and outcomes. Through this connection, pets will benefit from leading edge treatments and a better quality of life.
The database is in its infancy, but will eventually be able to match potential candidates with appropriate clinical trials (one was posted the last time I checked). If your dog or cat has been diagnosed with cancer, consider registering him or her with this potentially groundbreaking service.
Dr. Jennifer Coates