With the amount of funds, time and effort that has gone into cancer research, one would think that it is high time that there was a permanent cure or vaccine to prevent the disease. Despite the enormous progress that has been made in this field, science is still far from a permanent solution for human as well as canine cancer.
Every now and then, we keep on hearing about vaccines for different types of cancers. For example, a study revealed that the human papilloma virus was significantly effective in preventing vulval and vaginal cancer lesions in women. Another significant development reported in recent times is that a vaccine has been awarded conditional approval for canine melanoma.
It is difficult to treat advanced melanoma regardless of whether it occurs in humans or dogs or as a form of feline cancer. In later stages, the melanoma is extremely resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation. This resistance led to a need to look for new modes of treating the deadly cancer. The emphasis was on developing a vaccine that would rein in the immune system.
Melanoma in dogs is similar to a form of skin cancer in humans. In dogs, it usually occurs around the mouth, nail beds and foot pads. It is a highly aggressive form of cancer in dogs that leads to death within a year. A DNA based vaccine, created from actual melanoma tumor cells, has shown remarkable results. The cells are first treated so that they stop multiplying by division. DNA is then introduced into the cells to release an immune stimulant. The combination of these cells and the immune stimulant is injected into the skin of the patient.
Clinical trials have been encouraging with the average survival time of dogs with melanoma increasing from 90 days to 389 days. In 12.5% of dogs out of the 40% who responded positively to the vaccine, the cancer disappeared totally.
Normally cancer does not show early signs. In other cases, like the symptoms of liver cancer in dogs, the symptoms are so similar to various other mild disorders that detection is almost impossible. This particular aspect of cancer often delays treatment, often leading to death as prognosis is directly related to the stage to which the disease has reached.
The recent approval, although conditional, for a vaccine for treating canine melanomas bodes good news for humans as well. Humans develop this type of cancer in the same way as dogs do. The treatments meted out are similar too. Trials being conducted on animals that live in the same environment as humans in conjunction with human trials may help in providing a safer treatment of cancer for all. Let us hope that we hear of a major breakthrough in this research and that it is not hampered by lack of funds, a hurdle that most serious researches face.