New Treatment Means Pets Won't Die Earlier Than They Should

An Australian team is leading the way in using radiation therapy, previously only available to humans, to treat cancers in our furry friends.

RadVet is bringing new hope to families who are faced with putting their beloved pets through invasive operations to treat cancers.

The new treatment is hoping to reduce the need for invasive treatment, and despite still being in its trial phase, has already helped animals on their way to recovery and a longer life with their families.

Research team leader Dr Yolanda Surjan, who specialises in clinical radiation therapy in humans, developed the treatment after discovering the possibility of applying similar treatment -- known to work well in humans, to treat skin cancer in animals.

Surjan told 10 daily the research team from CSIRO's ON Accelerate program currently works in partnership with two veterinary clinics to use the treatment on dogs, cats and horses.

Image: Supplied (Liam Driver)

She said it avoids the side-effect risk of disfigurement that can come with traditional surgery options, by allowing for localised treatment.

This means the radiation does not enter the entire body and can be aimed at the specific location of a tumour.

"We offer a better, kinder and safer treatment," Surjan said.

Dr Robert Zammit from Vineyard Veterinary Hospital who works with Surjan by referring cases to her research team said the treatment will be an excellent option when it becomes available more widely the future.

Earlier this year Zammit referred Easy, a beloved show dog, to Surjan's team after removing most of the dog's tumour.

"We got rid of what we could of the tumour," Zammit told 10 daily, "but he was very beloved to the family."

"He really did mean a lot to them... and they asked me 'what else can we do'".

Easy underwent six sessions of radiation therapy over three weeks and is now recovering well. 

"He's doing particularly well," Surjan said.

"He's back to his normal self and eating well."

"His owners are thrilled," Zammit added.

READ MORE: Home Health Dangers: Is Your Four-Legged Friend At Risk?

Zammit said in his clinical work, he has seen an increase in the number of cases of skin cancers in pets.

According to Pet Insurance Australia, there were approximately 1,500 claims nationwide for skin cancer in dogs, in 2016 alone.

"Part of the reason is that animals are now living longer," Zammit said, adding that the higher trend applies to all cancers generally.

"But lots of dogs also love to sunbake," Zammit explained, adding that particularly in the summer months dogs enjoy lying outside on their backs, exposing their stomachs.

Image: Getty Images

Surjan agreed and said in Australia, because of the higher exposure to sunlight, some cancers are far more likely to develop in our pets.

Surjan said the next step will be to get more referrals to their service to progress the treatment "into the real world."

"We're really making a difference to people who wouldn't have other options for their animals but surgery, which can leave their pets disfigured," she said.

Image: Supplied (Liam Driver)

"It's an alternative for people who want to hold onto their pets to be a part of their family for a little longer."

Zammit added the treatment will be very useful for tumours found around the nose area, which would currently require the amputation of almost the entire nose.

"In my clinical work I get to have a great deal of satisfaction watching patients recover through their cancer journey, Surjan said.

"I had no idea I'd have the exact same feelings watching animals to the same."

How To Check For Symptoms In Your Pet

Zammit said, just like for humans, the quicker cancers are caught, the higher the success rates.

"Any changes in the skin of your pet, rough patches, raised bumps, sores that don’t go away over time please consult your vet.”

"Any owner that has a pet with a cancer on or in the skin should talk to their veterinarian and get a referral for this newest technology," Zammit said.

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Featured Image: Supplied (Liam Driver)

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