Tackling cancer in dogs highlighted on World Cancer Research Day

One in four dogs will get cancer in their lifetime, and for dogs over the age of 10 cancer is their biggest killer.

To mark World Cancer Research Day (24 September 2019), we are highlighting that the only way to beat cancer is through research.

Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Cancer Research at the Animal Health Trust, said: “This work is so very important because research is the only way to address cancer”.

Dr Mike Starkey tells dog owners about our vital research into cancer in dogs

As the only UK charity with a dedicated research programme tackling cancer in dogs, a current major focus is understanding how tumours spread. Tumour spread, and subsequent organ failure, is the main cause of death in dogs (and humans) with cancer.

To have an impact, and make a real difference for dogs affected by different types of cancer, we have to tackle the big threats, and one of the biggest is tumour spread. By studying biopsies of common types of tumour that behaved in different ways, we can begin to understand why some tumours spread and others don’t, and also why some respond to treatment and others won’t.

Dr Mike Starkey
Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Molecular Oncology

In the last 12 months, Dr Starkey and his team have identified ‘biomarkers’ that will predict, with an accuracy of 90%, whether a mast cell tumour or oral malignant melanoma is a tumour that will spread. Currently, vets do not have a test that will accurately predict if a dog’s mast cell tumour or oral melanoma will spread. In time, this work will hopefully lead to routine tests that will predict if these tumours will spread, and help vets better determine how to best treat dogs with either type of cancer. Even more importantly, it is hoped that some of the biomarkers may be good targets for new drugs designed to prevent tumour spread.

AHT cancer researchers are also trying to identify inherited genetic risk factors that cause some dog breeds to have an increased risk of developing a particular cancer. The team recently discovered an inherited genetic variant carried by 70% of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, two of the UK’s most popular breeds. The variant increases the risk of mast cell tumours developing, and its discovery is a first step towards creating a test that will identify dogs in these breeds that have the highest risk of developing this common tumour.

There is still much work to be done to translate these laboratory research findings into practical solutions that will help dog owners and vets treating dogs affected by cancer. However, these developments are important pieces in the jigsaw which must be completed to fully understand how tumours develop and progress.

Dr Starkey, said: “Ultimately we are aiming to prevent dogs from losing their lives to cancer, and to reduce the number of dogs that develop cancer. We are very grateful to the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and Zoe’s Journey UK for their support of our work as there is just so much to do, but we are making progress and that is very positive.”

Help research cancer into dogs

Tumour samples are vital to this research, but accessing tumour samples can be difficult. If your vet suspects that your dog might have cancer, and you feel you would like to help research, please contact the Animal Health Trust oncology research team before your dog starts treatment.

We appreciate this can be a difficult time but your assistance could make a significant difference to the lives of thousands of dogs with cancer.

Please click the button below visit for further information on the cancers that we are currently investigating and the samples that we need to collect.

Help with cancer samples