Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs that are beyond middle age. Each year, more than 6.5 million dogs are diagnosed with cancer, and an average of 1 in 3 dogs will have cancer in their lifetime. Half of those will die directly from the disease, according to the National Canine Cancer Foundation.
Two recent breakthroughs in canine cancer screening may help mitigate the premature loss of our beloved companions and give pet parents easier options for more effective treatment.
“The emergence of the ‘liquid biopsy’ – cancer screening through routine blood tests – could prove to be a game-changer in terms of early intervention,” said Dr. Laurie Brush, founder of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice.
“At the same time, it’s important to remember that these tests don’t diagnose cancer. They indicate the need for further evaluation and can be subject to error.”
The two tests newly available to veterinarians are called NuQ™ by VolitionRX and OncoK9™ by PetDX. Each rely on relatively non-invasive blood draws, are recommended as screening for dogs over the age of 7 or earlier in high-risk breeds, and boast a growing body of peer-reviewed research. Both are better at detecting systemic cancers than local tumors.
NuQ™ was able to detect 74% of lymphomas and 89% of hemangiosarcomas in a peer-reviewed study. The test measures the nucleosomes in your dog’s blood, which are bead-like structures that contain DNA pieces shed from cancer cells that are then detected using specific enzymes. Inflammatory diseases or sepsis can also show increased nucleosomes, so the test is not conclusive of cancer. Screening is available to veterinarians through Texas A&M Veterinary GI lab and IDEXX, and is comparatively inexpensive.
OncoK9™ uses next-generation sequencing technology and bioinformatics algorithms to “interrogate” millions of cell-free DNA for alterations that indicate the presence of cancer. It analyzes these biomarkers and achieved an 85% detection rate for lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma, with only a 1.5% false positive rate in a peer-reviewed study. It is a comparatively more expensive test. OnkcoK9™ is available to veterinarians through Antech or IDEXX.
Screening your dog for cancer is a highly personal choice to discuss with your veterinarian. For some high-risk breeds, it could be a move to give you and your companion more time together, more comfort, and more ways to honor your bond.
If you’d like to donate to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, visit: WeAreTheCure.org.