The Canine-Human Cancer Link

Comparative Oncology: The study of the link between other species and human cancer.
Canines are our closest biological match.

Dogs share our environment, our food, our lives. Because they are exposed to the same environment and get some of the same types of cancer, they make good study subjects. The Canine Genome Sequencing Project at the Broad Institute successfully mapped the genome of a boxer named Tasha in 2005. (See

The map of the genome has been used to confirm that many of the same genes involved in dog cancers are also involved in human cancers. Cancer also behaves the same way in the body with canines as it does in humans. Some examples of comparative cancers include non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer, head and neck carcinoma, mammary carcinoma, melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma, transitional cell carcinoma and osteosarcoma. These efforts come at a critical time because there is growing difficulty in successful new drug development. Less than 1% of traditionally developed cancer treatments receive approval from the FDA because the developed drug doesn't translate well into human use.

Comparative oncology proves that a link from humans to dogs does exist and successful canine treatment frequently leads to successful human treatment.

In Comparative Oncology cancer is NEVER introduced into a patient/research participant, it must develop spontaneously, just as it does in humans. Unfortunately, with canine cancer rates skyrocketing, cancers occur in sufficient numbers for clinical trials and biological studies, a unique occurrence in the animal kingdom, but one that allows us to create and execute clinical trials and look for new and innovative treatments.

Additionally, human owners are likely to consent to participate in clinical trials because existing treatment and current protocols are very limited and not always as effective as hoped. In short, we simply have not focused on treating and curing dogs, we have been focused on people. We have now learned that treating dogs is the fastest path to successful human treatment. Many factors make dogs the ideal study group. The progression of cancer in companion animals is rapid and therefore clinical trial also progresses more rapidly than in other models. Because of this connection the options available for canine treatment have expanded dramatically. Now is our chance to push money into canine research (which will also help humans to get the help our dogs deserve).

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) believes so strongly in this vision that the NCI Comparative Oncology Program was created in response. A repository of tissues and fluids (tumor and normal) from more than 3000 tumor bearing dogs has been created  and is currently being maintained by Pfizer. Several clinical trials including targeted delivery therapy in treatment of tumors are currently underway.(See

A Canine Melanoma Vaccine has earned interim licensing from the Food & Drug Administration for use in veterinary oncology. Additionally, smaller canine gene pools and selective breeding offer additional benefits to science. Dogs offer a “shortcut” in advanced cancer research. Extending the lives of the dogs we love and helping others pay for treatment they could not otherwise afford is at the heart of our efforts. Research is costly, yet it is the only way to find cures to improve and lengthen lives.

It is up to us in the dog loving community to contribute to this effort. Up until now getting funding into dog research has been really tough.  Human research has been the priority. We now have a new field of research, Comparative Oncology that ties successful treatment in dogs to successful treatment in humans. A few examples of medical advances that we owe to dogs are bone marrow transplants, glaucoma treatment, targeted cell therapy, and immune system response therapies.