Pink ribbons don’t just stand for breast cancer awareness for people. Now they’re for pups, too.
Dogs with names like Mindy, Gretel, Abigail, Jasmine, Rose and, yes, even Toto.
All are (or have been) canine breast-cancer patients at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital. But not the usual kind.
These are very special dogs, even though they don’t have a home – or family – of their own, as they either come from shelters or are currently in foster care.
Being homeless, in fact, is one of the qualifications for their having been accepted in the Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program — a treatment plan with multiple benefits for both dogs and people.
Shelter dogs with cancer unlikely to be adopted
For shelter dogs, life is tough enough – only around half end up getting adopted. And for a shelter dog with breast tumors, well, you can imagine how the odds of finding a home drop dramatically.
So, not only do these pups get surgery to remove their tumors (no chemo is included in the program), complete with follow-up vet checks, but a good chance of finding a permanent home as well.
And for breast cancer research, there are opportunities for discovering new insights about the disease that can help women.
Homeless dogs, as it turns out, are excellent subjects for such research. While humans have only two mammary glands, dogs have ten.
And then there’s the fact that shelter animals are more likely to develop breast cancer because they’re less likely to have been spayed (spaying being the number one way to lower the risk of breast tumors in your own pet).
Breast cancer research in dogs helps women too
This allows the Penn Vet team to study breast tumors and the molecular changes associated with them at various stages of development. In fact, it has already done two studies now being readied for publication.
Such research can make doctors “better able to predict which tumors warrant early, aggressive treatment and which are unlikely to spread,” said Penn veterinary surgeon and researcher Susan Volk. And that, in turn, can spare patients the ordeal of being given toxic therapies that aren’t really necessary.
And then there are around 200 dogs of all breeds and sizes who, because of this program, have already been given a second chance for a happy life.
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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