What is cancer?

One in four dogs will develop cancer. It is the biggest killer of dogs over the age of 10.

Cancer is caused by damage to DNA. Most cancers are not caused by inherited DNA damage. Cancer is not just one disease, but is actually up to 200 different diseases. The behaviour of a tumour depends upon the type of cell from which the tumour develops and where the cell is in the body. Tumours of the same type can behave differently if they have different genetic blueprints. Finding ways to beat this complex disease is very difficult. The main causes of death in animals with cancer is tumour spread and so this process is something we’re working hard to understand…

Some breeds of dog are prone to specific types of cancer, such as Flat-Coated Retrievers who are susceptible to histiocytic sarcoma.

Researching cancer in dogs

Most types of cancer affect most breeds of dog. And some breeds have an increased risk of developing a certain type of cancer. These breeds include Bernese Mountain Dogs, Boxers, Flat-Coated Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Irish Wolfhounds and Labrador Retrievers.

Ultimately our aim is to prevent dogs from losing their lives to cancer, and reduce the number of dogs that develop cancer. We’re working towards these goals by focussing our research on tackling the most common aggressive cancers in dogs, such as lymphoma, mast cell tumours and osteosarcoma. By studying tumours we can begin to understand why some spread and others don’t, and why some respond to treatment and others won’t. By studying DNA from blood or cheek cells we’re able to look at the role inherited genetic risk factors play in specific cancers in susceptible dog breeds.

We hope that our research will identify new ways of preventing tumours from spreading, and will lead to new predictive tests used by vets to decide on the right treatment for a dog with cancer. By developing tests for genetic risk factors we will be able to identify dogs in a susceptible breed that have a greater risk of developing a particular cancer. If there are fewer risk factors and they are rare, it will be possible for us to reduce the number of dogs that develop that particular cancer.

Our work is so very important because research is the only way to beat cancer. By working out how tumours are able to spread we will help to identify new treatments that will enable animals to survive aggressive tumours.

Dr Mike Starkey
Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Molecular Oncology

Help our research into cancer in dogs

We need your help to help dogs with cancer! If your vets suspects that your dog might have one of the cancers listed below, please contact us before your dog starts treatment.

We need tumour biopsies from any breed of dog affected with Glioma (glial cell tumour), lymphoma, mast cell tumour, oral melanoma, osteosarcoma, transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder and uveal melanoma.

We also need a DNA cheek swab or surplus blood sample from:

  • Boxers with glioma (glial cell tumour), lymphoma or mast cell tumour
  • Bullmastiffs with lymphoma
  • German Shepherd Dogs with uveal melanoma
  • Golden Retrievers with lymphoma, mast cell tumour, oral melanoma or uveal melanoma
  • Labrador Retrievers with mast cell tumour, oral melanoma or uveal melanoma
  • Great Danes with osteosarcoma
  • Greyhounds with osteosarcoma
  • Irish Wolfhounds with osteosarcoma
  • Labrador Retrievers with a mast cell tumour, oral melanoma or uveal melanoma
  • Leonbergers with osteosarcoma
  • Newfoundlands with osteosarcoma
  • Poodles with oral melanoma
  • Shar Pei with a mast cell tumour
  • Scottish Terriers with oral melanoma or a transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder
  • Weimaraners with a mast cell tumour.

If you are a dog owner, or a vet, and would like to submit one of the samples listed above to help our cancer research in dogs, please contact us at oncologyres@aht.org.uk or call 01638 751000 ext. 1214

This is Ella Bailey’s story

Ella Bailey was diagnosed with cancer when she was just eight years old. Following treatment, Labrador Retriever Ella went into remission, but at the age of 10 she was diagnosed with two further types of cancer. She had major surgery to remove the tumours, but due to the size of one, it couldn’t be fully removed. Her owner Sandra knew that at some point the cancer would come back. Tragically, less than a year later, three nodules had grown back in her liver and nothing more could be done except keeping her as comfortable as possible. Sadly Ella lost her fight against cancer in October 2019.

We believe the only way to help prevent dogs like Ella losing their lives to this terrible disease is through research. We need you to support our vital research tackling cancer in dogs.

Please help our Cancer research...

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Picture credit: Michelle O'Neill

Research lead

Dr Mike Starkey

Dr Mike Starkey

Head of Molecular Oncology

The primary aim of Mike’s research is to identify biomarkers of tumours and tumour behaviour.

Read Dr Mike Starkey's bio

We are very grateful to the following for their ongoing support of this work:

The Kennel Club Charitable Trust,
Zoe’s Journey UK,
various breed clubs and individuals.