Since 2003, NCI has been using information from studies of canine cancer to help guide studies of human cancer and vice versa—a field known as comparative oncology. Two NCI efforts, the Comparative Oncology Program (COP) and the Pre-medical Cancer Immunotherapy Network for Canine Trials (PRECINCT), facilitate trials of new therapies for different types of cancer in pet dogs, as well as laboratory studies to learn more about the basics of canine cancer. 

“Pet dogs benefit from what we do because we learn about their cancer and that can ultimately help identify better treatments for them,” said Amy LeBlanc, D.V.M., director of the Comparative Oncology Program in NCI’s  Center for Cancer Research. “We see the work that we do as an opportunity to help both dogs and people.”

Humans and pet dogs share the same living spaces, so they are exposed to some of the same environmental factors that cause cancer. Plus, cancer in both species can take years to develop, and in many cases, its growth is often driven by similar genetic mutations.

And not only does the cancer spread, or metastasize, from one body part to another in both humans and dogs, it usually spreads to the same organs such as the lungs and liver. Furthermore, our immune system (which can help and hinder cancer growth) works a lot like dogs’ do.

Because of these important similarities, studying pet dogs with naturally occurring cancers provides researchers with valuable clues about human cancer, Dr. LeBlanc said. Comparative oncology studies offer a different perspective than studies of artificially created cancers in lab animals such as mice and rats, she added.

But “there is no one model that is perfect for understanding cancer,” noted Cheryl London, D.V.M., Ph.D., of Tufts University, who is a member of COP and PRECINCT. “The more models we have, the better able we will be to identify and optimize approaches for cancer treatment and prevention.”

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