Mesothelioma in Pets Can Provide Insight Into New Treatments

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that accounts for approximately one percent of all cancer deaths worldwide. The cancer is caused through the inhalation of asbestos – a naturally occurring fiber that is often used for insulation or heat-resistant purposes.

Just as asbestos exposure affects human health, so too does it affect the health of pets and companion animals. In rare cases, asbestos exposure among dogs and cats does occur. Sadly, such exposure may eventually lead to mesothelioma.

Prolonged breathing problems, coughing or difficulty breathing witnessed in a dog or cat may be warning signs of mesothelioma. If a family member works around asbestos, fibers may remain on their clothing when they come home. These fibers may be inhaled or licked by the pet. Additionally, asbestos has been commonly used in building construction, and may be present in home walls.

When mesothelioma in pets occurs, it is of course a tragedy. However, these pets may serve as important pioneers in new mesothelioma treatments. Oftentimes, these dogs and cats undergo experimental mesothelioma treatments that may one day be approved for use in humans.

One such study, reported in the May 2008 issue of the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research, found promising results for a mesothelioma treatment regimen that combined the use of piroxicam and platinum-based intracavity chemotherapy.

Three companion animals took place in the study – two dogs and one cat. All participants experienced variable remission times. Most notably, one dog continues to be in remission three years following treatment. This is incredibly promising, given the fact that most human patients to do not survive more than a year following a mesothelioma diagnosis.

The other dog survived for eight months following treatment, while the cat survived 6 months. While this is less encouraging, treatment did result in a 90 percent reduction in excessive fluid buildup.

The researchers who published the paper suggest that the treatment results are promising enough to warrant future tests in animals, and possibly humans. However, they note that mesothelioma is more likely to follow a benign course of advancement in dogs than in humans. This may be a hidden factor in the 3-year survival time of the one canine participant.