Growing Knowledge, Shrinking Tumors

An early interest in cancer research set Mahsa Zarei on a path to investigate treatments for rare and genetically linked conditions.

Story by Justin Agan

Dr. Mahsa Zarei in the lab
Dr. Mahsa Zarei

Ask most 12-year-old children what they want to be when they grow up and you are likely to get a variety of answers ranging from professional athlete to astronaut.

While doctor or scientist might be on that list as well, it is doubtful you would hear something as specific as cancer biologist.

Mahsa Zarei, Ph.D., however, was one of those rare children.

A Young Passion

When Zarei was 12 years old, she watched two of her close aunts fight cancer. One aunt benefited from early diagnosis and treatment; the second passed away.

Throughout this ordeal, Zarei’s mind raced with questions: How could she help her aunts? What kind of cancer did they have? What were the treatments?

As a result, she became an avid student of cancer, devouring cancer biology books.

“At 12, I wanted to know, what is cancer and what’s happening with the cancer?” Zarei recalls. “I learned most of the treatments for different types of cancer.”

Zarei’s interest in this career path never wavered.

She earned her undergraduate degree in medical bio-technology and her Ph.D. in cancer biology before accepting a postdoctoral research scientist position at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

In 2016, she was the lead author on a study about pancreatic cancer and its ability to survive in the nutrient-poor conditions of the pancreas. The survivability of pancreatic cancer in such poor conditions has also seemed to translate to its resistance of current chemotherapy treatments.

“It’s like a cactus in a desert,” Zarei explains, “without any nutrients, but it’s still growing and aggressive.”

Zarei and her co-researchers found that one of the key proteins, HuR, allowed the cancer to survive in the nutrient-poor microenvironment of the pancreas. It also gave the cancer a resistance to chemotherapy drugs.

What Makes Cancer Tick

As the well-known Sun Tzu quote advises, “Know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Zarei has followed this advice in her research by knowing her enemy.

Cancer, in one of the broadest definitions of the term, refers to diseases that cause abnormal cells to divide without control and can invade nearby tissues, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Mahsa Zarei points out slides on a computer to Sneha Harishchandra
Dr. Mahsa Zarei and Sneha Harishchandra

Most know that there are many different types of cancer caused by any number of things or underlying conditions. Doctors and researchers have spent decades, even centuries, fighting cancer in all its forms.

Previous treatments, like chemotherapy, concentrated on killing the cancerous cells, but more recently, there has been a push to discover new ways of fighting it.

For the better part of her career, Zarei took the approach of figuring out how different types of cancer worked at a very basic level. By understanding the different pathways and processes that allow these cancers to live and grow, she can understand how better to fight them at that basic level.

After leaving the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Zarei joined Harvard Medical School as a research scientist fellow. There, while working at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, she learned about a pair of fraternal twins, one of whom had tumors in the kidney; no one could determine why these tumors were occurring.

“That’s why I worked so hard to try and understand her disease better and to come up with something,” she said.

After conducting genetic screening, Zarei’s lab found that the girl had a rare genetic disease that causes tumors that can affect the brain, kidneys, lungs, and heart. A mutation in a protein complex called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is what causes the tumor growth.

In normal cells TSC1 and TSC2 help inhibit, or stop, another protein complex called mTORC1. The girl’s tumor cells lacked TSC2, so mTORC1 was hyper-activated. This caused the out-of-control division of cells and the growth of the tumor.

After finding the pathway involved in the rare genetic disease, Zarei and her co-researchers looked for ways to interrupt that pathway. They found a drug called THZ1 that was being used for different cancer types, including breast and ovarian cancer.

When tested on TSC-deficient cells and normal cells, THZ1 selectively targeted the TSC-deficient cells and caused them to die, but left healthy cells alone.

The established treatment for this disease is a drug called rapamycin. Rapamycin and drugs similar to it, commonly called rapalogs, reduce tumor size while the patient is taking the drug. However, as soon as the treatment ends, the tumors begin to grow again, which means that patients would have to remain on the drug indefinitely.

Zarei’s research found that THZ1 not only reduced tumor size, but it prevented re-growth of the tumors after stopping treatment. The U.S. Department of Defense now funds this study, and Cyrus Pharmaceutical Company has begun the first clinical trials of a derivative of THZ1.

“We are hoping that in the near future we can use this with a TSC patient,” Zarei said.

Sneha Harishchandra shows Dr. Mahsa Zarei a research poster
Sneha Harishchandra and Dr. Mahsa Zarei

Aggieland Bound

In 2018, Zarei moved to College Station with her husband, who had accepted a position in the Texas A&M University College of Engineering.

Zarei was then recruited by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology (VTPP).

“The evaluation of her cancer research program by the faculty in our department identified Dr. Zarei as a rising star and drove our intense interest in getting her to Texas A&M,” said VTPP department head Dr. Larry Suva. “She is an asset to our department, college, and university.”

Suva describes Zarei as a “role model for the energy and focus needed for faculty to succeed in academia.”

Since arriving at Texas A&M, Zarei has continued her research on TSC. In September, she published a paper on her research in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

She has also renewed her research in pancreatic cancer with renowned cancer researcher Dr. Stephen Safe, also in VTPP. Together, they hope to find a new treatment that will reduce pancreatic cancer’s tolerance of its harsh microenvironment and chemotherapy.

Zarei is hopeful they will be able to publish their findings soon.

“Dr. Zarei has been great to work with,” Safe said. “She will be a prime candidate for a full faculty position.”

Zarei has turned an adolescent passion into a thriving career. In the future, she wants to continue finding answers in the lab that translate to the patients’ beds.

While she has mentored and taught students in her lab, including undergraduate researchers like Rachel E. Yan, one of the co-authors on Zarei’s most recent journal publication, she also hopes to return to the classroom soon, to pass on what she has learned.

Zarei wants to teach undergraduate and graduate classes, and “maybe a cancer biology class, if that’s possible.”

“My future goal is to be a well-known scientist, working on rare diseases and pancreatic cancer,” Zarei said. “I’m really passionate about having students to work with.”

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Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CVM Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Petco Foundation Grants: Supporting The Fight Against Cancer

Story by Dorian Martin

Cannon Lenfield hugs his brown dog Liberty in a field of bluebonnets
Cannon Lenfield and Liberty

Like most college students, Cannon Lenfield ‘20 didn’t have a lot of extra funds on hand when his 9-year-old dog, Liberty, was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2018. Yet the Texas A&M University student proved to be very resourceful in finding ways to pay for his dog’s treatment.

“At that point, I had just paid tuition and couldn’t afford to pay any more at the moment,” explained Lenfield, who didn’t have canine health insurance. “There was no way Liberty was going to be able to receive treatment any longer without help.”

A student worker in VMTH’s Small Animal Hospital Gastrointestinal Laboratory at the time, Lenfield paid for most of Liberty’s treatment on his own, which required him to buckle down financially.

“I definitely couldn’t buy a lot of stupid things anymore; I stopped eating out and stuff like that,” he said. “I knew that it was going to take a lot of money to pay for it so I doubled my hours.”

Lenfield was so committed to ensuring Liberty’s care that after being in a motorcycle accident, he reallocated an insurance payment to help pay the bill.

“My bike still worked so I didn’t need the money,” he said. “I was fine.”

Fortunately, Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) was able to step in to offer him support through the Petco Foundation Pet Cancer Treatment grant, which was established in early 2019. This grant provides financial assistance to pet owners who have modest means or whose pets have provided a service to others.

The timing of receiving these funds was especially helpful in Liberty’s case.

A Friend For Life

Lenfield was a boy when his family adopted the mixed-breed puppy from a kill shelter. They decided to name the dog Liberty because she was scheduled to be euthanized on Sept. 11 but was rescued on Sept. 10.

The young boy and pup quickly formed a tight bond and grew even closer in the ensuing years. Lenfield opted to bring her to college with him so he could spend time with her between his classes and studies.

A group of veterinarians and veterinary technicians
The Oncology team at Texas A&M University

“She was definitely my best friend,” he said.

When the dog reached the age of 9, she started displaying signs of ill health.

“While I was on vacation, the dog sitter noticed a lump on both sides of her neck, in her lymph nodes,” the public health graduate said. “I took her to the veterinarian the day that I got back and they told me that she probably had cancer.”

Lenfield immediately turned to the VMTH’s oncology staff—who confirmed the diagnosis—to oversee Liberty’s treatment.

“Obviously, they were going to be the best help that I could get,” he said. “Plus, there’s no one else in the area that offers treatment for lymphoma.”

The Best Treatment For A Best Friend

After deciding to pursue treatment at the VMTH, Lenfield found that that care wasn’t cheap.

“We use a lot of the human-level drugs and equipment, but we don’t have insurance to help support that,” said Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, an associate professor and Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology. “We keep our prices as low as we can, but unfortunately, it’s still expensive.”

Liberty initially qualified for a study that helped cover a portion of the initial treatment cost.

“That helped pay for a portion of the costs and then after that, anything additional was on me,” Lenfield said. “I got the Petco funds later, but in between there and then it was all me.”

The VMTH’s staff was excited to be able to offer Lenfield the funds because they were so impressed by his commitment to Liberty.

A brown dog sitting in a yard smiling
Liberty

“He was trying so hard to do everything for this dog. We had sort of piecemealed treatments for him as much as we could—we put her on any studies we could and looked for anything we could do to help him pay for things,” said Wilson-Robles. “Finally, we got to a point where we didn’t have any studies she qualified for and he just wasn’t sure he could afford treatment, so we offered him the Petco funds. He just started sobbing because he was just so grateful because he didn’t have to stop. This dog was his family. He didn’t have any other family in town.”

“I didn’t think happy tears were real until I got the financial assistance to care for Liberty, Lenfield said.

Worth Every Penny

Sadly, despite her treatments, Liberty succumbed to her lymphoma in September 2019, but throughout it all, Lenfield had no doubt that the VMTH veterinary staff was focused on providing Liberty the best care possible.

“I can’t say enough how awesome these people are,” Lenfield said. “They truly are a wonderful group of people and there’s no one else in the world I would’ve rather treated my dog. They are some of the most caring, compassionate and knowledgeable people this world has to offer and will do everything in their power to take care of you and your animal.”

Lenfield said given the chance, he would take the same course of action all over again.

“If you have the money, you should definitely spend it. She was there for me for eight years and I only had to do it for one year. Up until then I only fed her,” he said. “I would never take any of the money back. I spent like $1,500 in the last week she was alive and even that week was worth $1,500.”

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Note: A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CVM Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

CVM Faculty Members to Promote Canine Health with New Research Grants

Story by Megan Myers

Drs. Nick and Unity Jeffery, a husband-and-wife duo at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), have received canine health research grants from the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Canine Health Foundation (CHF).

Dr. Unity Jeffery
Dr. Unity Jeffery

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the AKC CHF awarded more than $2.1 million in 36 new canine health research grants in February. The selected projects were chosen based on their ability to meet the highest scientific standards and to have the greatest potential to advance the health of all dogs.

In her Dogs Helping Dogs Laboratory, Unity Jeffery, an assistant professor in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB), will conduct research for her grant “Tumor-educated Platelets: A Minimally Invasive Liquid Biopsy for Early Cancer Diagnosis.”

Studies in human medicine have shown that RNA in blood platelets is a promising marker for various types of cancer.

Unity Jeffery’s study, in collaboration with Drs. Emma Warry, Jonathan Lidbury, and Chris Dolan, from the CVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS), will act as a proof of principle to determine if this information is translational into canine medicine.

If so, her research may be the first step in developing a blood-based screening test or liquid biopsy for canine cancer.

“One of the big problems with cancer in dogs is that because dogs can’t talk, they can’t let us know when they’re starting to feel just a little bit unwell or show very mild symptoms,” she said. “That means that we often don’t diagnose cancer in dogs until very late, when the cancer’s already widespread throughout the body.”

By using a test that can detect cancer earlier, veterinarians may be able to use more targeted treatment protocols that have reduced side effects.

“The hope of early diagnosis is that maybe that’s your chance to fully eliminate the cancer rather than just prolong life,” she said.

Dr. Nick Jeffery
Dr. Nick Jeffery

Meanwhile, CVM professor and neurologist Nick Jeffery will be working to extend results from a previous research project for his grant “Clinical Trial of Prevotella histicola Supplementation to Ameliorate Meningoencephalomyelitis of Unknown Origin (MUO).”

In a previous project, Nick Jeffery found that dogs with MUO, a disease of the central nervous system that resembles multiple sclerosis in humans, have an unusual balance of bacteria in their guts. Particularly, one bacteria that is known for controlling inflammation was consistently at lower levels.

His project will focus on providing supplements of that reduced bacteria to dogs with MUO to hopefully improve the disease’s outcome.

“We’re going to culture the bacteria and then put them into capsules that dogs can take every day,” he said. “The idea is that it will help us get better control of the disease, which is quite serious and quite a lot of dogs will die of it. We’re hoping that by supplementing with this bacteria, we might improve their survival.”

In addition to improving the survival of dogs with MUO, the bacterial supplement could also provide a way to reduce the use of immunosuppressive drugs, improving the dogs’ overall health and wellbeing.

Similar to the translational aspect of Unity Jeffery’s project, Nick’s may also one day play a role in human medicine by suggesting a new treatment method for multiple sclerosis.

“I was very pleased to get the grant, especially since it was a follow up on a previous study,” he said. “It’s fantastic to try out bacterial supplementation. This sort of approach is pretty new in all medicine, so it’s a great opportunity to test the idea and also try to fix dogs that have got a very serious condition.”

“I’m very grateful to the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the owners and breeders who donate to the charity,” Unity Jeffery said. “My Dogs Helping Dogs Lab, where we use canine patients and healthy volunteers to try to better diagnose and treat common canine diseases, fits really nicely with the AKC’s mission to improve the health of both pedigree dogs and the whole canine population. It’s a charity that I feel very honored to be funded by and very grateful for their continuing support.

“Nick and I have pet dogs at home and we love our dogs; they’re our family,” she said. “For me, I feel that I do the same type of research for my patients as a human doctor would do for theirs, and that’s what’s great about working in a veterinary school and having the opportunity to obtain funding from sources like the AKC.”

About the AKC CHF

Since 1995, the AKC Canine Health Foundation has leveraged the power of science to address the health needs of all dogs. With more than $56 million in funding to date, the Foundation provides grants for the highest quality canine health research and shares information on the discoveries that help prevent, treat and cure canine diseases. The Foundation meets and exceeds industry standards for fiscal responsibility, as demonstrated by their highest four-star Charity Navigator rating and GuideStar Platinum Seal of Transparency. Learn more at www.akcchf.org.

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Texas A&M Research Examines Human, Canine Links Between Gliomas, Expanding Treatment, Research Possibilities

Dr. Beth Boudreau headshot
Dr. Beth Boudreau

Story by Margaret Preigh

Researchers at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) have been working for years to study the connection between canine and human gliomas.

In the most thorough examination of canine gliomas to date, the team—working in collaboration with the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut and the MD Anderson Cancer Center—has now identified similarities between canine and human gliomas that may also allow researchers to use the knowledge we have on human gliomas in the treatment and research of canine gliomas, and vice versa.

Dr. Beth Boudreau, an assistant professor of neurology at the CVM, and colleagues worked to examine the glioma cells at a molecular level, analyzing the genetic material of diseased tissues in humans and dogs to determine which genes are present and when, which genes are used, and how the cell regulates use of these genes.

What they found was that molecular similarities exist between canine gliomas and human pediatric gliomas that suggest the two diseases follow similar cancer-causing mutational processes.

The knowledge of how a diseased cell is operating at a genetic level also will allow researchers to better understand how to interrupt the disease processes of gliomas and develop new treatment options.

This study is the largest canine genomic dataset that’s been collected and analyzed,” Boudreau said. “The reason that’s important is that it gives us the best picture, at a genomic level, of how these tumors work and how they relate to similar human tumors.”

Canine gliomas are a form of cancer affecting the glial cells of the brain or spine of a dog. These tumors lack a distinct boundary between tumor and healthy tissue, which makes them notoriously difficult to remove surgically.

Gliomas are the second most common type of brain cancer in dogs and have a poor prognosis; with symptomatic therapy, the average survival time is just a few months.

Boudreau’s research aimed to create a molecular profile of canine glioma and compare this data to the molecular profiles of human pediatric and adult gliomas. The profiles included an analysis of which versions of genes are present and when, which genes are used, and how the cell regulates use of these genes.

“Overall, our goal was trying to figure out if we could leverage all of the information we know about human tumors to be able to treat our dogs better,” Boudreau said.

The study found that canine gliomas and human pediatric gliomas share alterations to multiple cell pathways, genes, and pieces of cellular machinery. These and other similarities suggest that both canine gliomas and human pediatric gliomas might have similar cancer-causing alterations and similar timelines of when these cancer-causing alterations occur.

“We’re trying to figure out what cells are there and what they are doing,” Boudreau said. “Are they active or inactive? How many of them are there? When did they go there? What called them? That’s the information that we need to design a sensible clinical trial.”

The study, published in Cancer Cell, was also co-authored by CVM faculty Dr. Brian Porter and Dr. Jonathan Levine, as well as collaborators from the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine.

This further knowledge of the nature of canine gliomas is not only a step toward developing new treatments for these cancers in dogs, but may also allow clinicians to apply knowledge of human pediatric gliomas to the treatment and research of canine gliomas, and vice versa.

Boudreau is optimistic that this expansion of applicable knowledge will be useful in improving the prognosis of affected dogs.

“To me, the most important thing is to try to find a way to make this information into something that helps us treat these tumors better in dogs,” she said.

This project is part of a larger collaboration between the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center and the CVM. Though this project has culminated to a published paper, other ongoing studies at the CVM continue to investigate the molecular basis of cancers in hopes of gaining knowledge and creating new and better treatment options.

“The future of MD Anderson working with Texas A&M to do comparative genomic research between dogs and people is absolutely not done,” Boudreau said. “This research is very modular; there are so many other tumor types that we could apply this strategy to. I’m really excited for the future.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Combating Pet Cancer

Cancer is a scary subject, especially when a loved one has been diagnosed. Because the first reactions and decisions can make a huge impact on treatment options and outcomes, it is important to be prepared and know what questions to ask first.

Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, uses his years of oncology experience to advise pet owners on the early steps of cancer detection and treatment.Dog

In order to get an early diagnosis, a pet with an unusual mass should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Pet owners should then be willing to do whatever is needed to ensure that a full diagnosis is made.

“Early detection and intervention can be the difference between a cure and a poor outcome, as well as the difference between a short, non-complex procedure or an expensive, extensive treatment protocol,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

Once the mass is examined, the veterinarian will need to run tests to determine if it is cancerous and, if so, what stage of cancer is present. With fine-needle aspiration, a cheap but very effective test, a hollow needle removes cells from the mass that are then viewed under a microscope to see if the tumor is malignant or benign.

If the mass is determined to be cancerous, the pet owner can begin discussing treatment options with the veterinarian.

“Get as much information as you need to make an informed decision,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “The most important aspect of all is finding a balance between being aggressive with treatment to increase the chances of a good outcome and maintaining a good quality of life.

“(At the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital) We have extensive discussions with owners about treatment options and costs that may be associated with those options,” he said.

While small, low-grade tumors may be cured with a minor, low-cost surgery, other tumors may need more extensive treatment plans. Some pets will need a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery to treat cancer, and the cost can build quickly.

Wustefeld-Janssens recommends that pet owners look into pet insurance or ask about payment plans to make the cost of cancer treatment more manageable.

One of the most important things to remember after a cancer diagnosis is to not lose hope.

“Our goal is always maintenance of a good quality of life so there may be little change to the daily routine, though some pets will be on chronic medication or need minor changes to exercise (regimens),” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

“As a group, we veterinarians are committed to supporting families and their pets through a diagnosis and treatment,” he said. “We have options and there is always something we can do.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Pet Cancer Awareness Month

Many of us know someone whose life has been impacted by cancer. Unfortunately, cancer can also occur in our pets. As part of Pet Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, associate professor, and Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, a fellowship-trained surgical oncologist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discussed everything owners need to know about cancer in pets.

One of the most common types of cancer in pets is skin cancer, Wustefeld-Janssens said. Primary care veterinarians can usually treat cancerous skin tumors without referring the pet to specialty care. However, more serious types of cancer—including tumors that appear in the bone, mouth, glands (such as anal sacs), or lymph nodes—may require surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.

In some situations, Wilson-Robles said a combination of treatments may be necessary to prevent the cancer from relapsing. For example, an animal may undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, but that doesn’t mean the animal is free of cancer cells. The animal may still need chemotherapy to remove remaining cancer cells from the body, which can help prevent the cancer from developing again.

One thing to consider when looking for a cancer treatment is finances. Though pets are often considered family, cancer treatment for our furry friends can get expensive. Wustefeld-Janssens suggested working with your veterinarian to find the most cost-efficient treatment plan.

In addition, Wilson-Robles suggested looking into pet insurance (when you first get your pet) to help cover the cost of cancer treatment. There are also clinical trials you can find at vetcancertrials.org or the American Veterinary Medical Association’s online database. Clinical trials are partially or fully funded programs that determine the effectiveness of a treatment.

“Ultimately, clinical trials are an experimental therapy,” Wilson-Robles said. “If we knew everything about it, we wouldn’t need to do the trials. However, your animal could be getting cutting-edge medicine that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.”

However, Wilson-Robles added that in some situations, there are no good options for cancer treatment. This may be because the animal is not strong enough to ensure cancer treatment or the cancer is too complicated and dangerous to treat.

“(Instead,) you may consider taking your pet home and keeping him comfortable,” Wilson-Robles said.

This includes providing the pet with any veterinarian-prescribed medications, clean bedding, any comfort items (such as toys), and food and water. If desired, you can even look into hospice care.

You may be wondering, “How can I know if my pet has cancer?” There are signs that may indicate cancer, but these symptoms can also be associated with other diseases and conditions. Report any abnormalities, such as a lump or a bump on the body, unexplained weight loss, limping or lameness, swelling, or bleeding to a veterinarian. The sooner you do this, the better.

“Early intervention is important,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “If you notice something abnormal, do not wait to show it to your veterinarian; a tumor the size of a grape is a lot easier to treat than one the size of a football.”

Keeping your pet in general good health is the best way to help prevent cancer, Wustefeld-Janssens added. This includes regular exercise, feeding your animal a well-balanced diet, and seeing the veterinarian for regular (at least once-a-year) checkups.

Though a cancer diagnosis can be scary, there are many treatment options available. However, the best treatment is preventative care. Remember to practice healthy habits with your pets and report any abnormalities to your veterinarian in a timely manner.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.