New research into common cancer will benefit thousands of Labrador and Golden Retrievers

Research recently released by veterinary charity, the Animal Health Trust, investigating the most common skin cancer in dogs, mast cell tumours, will be hugely beneficial to two of the UK’s most popular breeds of dog.

It is estimated that last year more than 12,000 dogs in the UK were affected by mast cell tumours, and it is widely acknowledged that Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are two breeds particularly susceptible to developing this type of tumour.

Research conducted by scientists at the Animal Health Trust in collaboration with groups in The Netherlands, Sweden and the USA1, and funded by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, has revealed that 70% of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers carry a genetic factor which increases their risk of developing mast cell tumours.

The charity’s scientists, led by Dr Mike Starkey, looked at the DNA of dogs, both affected and unaffected by mast cell tumours, and identified a change in the DNA, a ‘risk factor’, carried by seven in ten Labrador and Golden Retrievers. A dog that has two copies of this risk factor in its DNA is three to four times more likely to develop a mast cell tumour than a dog that doesn’t have a copy of the risk factor.

Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Cancer Research at the Animal Health Trust, said: “One in four dogs will be affected by cancer in its lifetime, and that is simply too many. As the only UK charity with a dedicated research programme focussed on cancer in dogs, ultimately we aim to prevent dogs from losing their lives to cancer, and reduce the number of dogs that develop cancer.

“We work towards these aims by focussing our research on tackling the most common aggressive cancers in dogs – in this case, mast cell tumours.

By studying DNA isolated from blood or cheek cells, we are able to look at the role inherited genetic risk factors play in specific cancers in susceptible dog breeds. We hope, from this, to develop tests for genetic risk factors that will be able to be used to identify dogs in a susceptible breed that have the greatest risk of developing a particular cancer and will potentially pass this high risk onto their puppies.

Dr Mike Starkey
Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Molecular Oncology

Steve Dean, Chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, said: “This new collaborative research into mast cell tumours, one of the common cancers suffered by dogs, is an important step forward in our understanding of this condition. It is helping us to unravel the genetic risk factors that contribute to the development of this aggressive skin cancer in two of our most popular breeds.

“Our ongoing work with the AHT has also recently led to published research that gives us the opportunity to develop an accurate prognostic test for this form of cancer, which would allow veterinary surgeons to make more informed decisions about the appropriate treatment for individual dogs.

“The Kennel Club Charitable Trust is dedicated to improving the health and welfare of all dogs, so it is heartening to know that our support of cancer research, carried out at the Animal Health Trust, is resulting in such significant breakthroughs in terms of our understanding and ability to deal with this disease.”

Dr Mike Starkey and the team at the Animal Health Trust now hope to identify other genetic risk variants for mast cell tumours in Labrador and Golden Retrievers. If sufficient risk factors can be identified, it should be possible to make a DNA screening test available to benefit more than 100,000 dogs in the UK.

Dr Starkey added: “Cancer remains one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of dogs, but through research, we are taking major strides forward in finding ways to beat it.”

Read the full study

You can read a copy of the study “A synonymous germline variant in a gene encoding a cell adhesion molecule is associated with cutaneous mast cell tumour development in Labrador and Golden Retrievers” published in PLOS Genetics, here

1. The Animal Health Trust worked in collaboration with Uppsala University in Sweden, Utrecht University and the Veterinary Specialist Centre De Wagenrenk in The Netherlands, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in the USA on this research.

We are very grateful to The Kennel Club Charitable Trust for its support of this research, and also to Zoe’s Journey UK, a fundraising group who has raised in excess of £150,000 to support cancer research in dogs. you can find out more about this group here