Tag Archives: cancer treatment

The companionship of dogs helps kids undergoing cancer treatment

Although survival rates for children diagnosed with cancer have increased dramatically over the past 40 years, hard evidence of proven psychosocial benefits to improve quality of life among patients and families during treatment has remained elusive.

Many hospitals have therapy dogs who visit with patients, and anecdotal evidence underscores the positive impact these programs have on children with cancer and their families.

Preliminary findings from a new, multi-center trial provides some of the first quantitative data to validate these claims.  The study, to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in Washington, DC, collected data on blood pressure, pulse rates and anxiety levels of children before and after a weekly visit from a therapy dog. During the visits, children pet or talk to the dog, brush its fur, view the dog’s photos, watch the dog practicing tricks or commands, and learn about dog breeds.

Photo courtesy of University of Texas Health Science Center

Photo courtesy of University of Texas Health Science Center

Preliminary findings show that blood pressure readings in the group receiving animal-assisted interventions remains more stable across all sessions than in the control group, said lead researcher Amy McCullough, Ph.D., National Director of Humane Research and Therapy for the American Humane Association. Similarly, there was a higher degree of variability in heart rate within the control group patients than with the treatment group patients.

“These findings suggest that the dog may have a calming effect on the patient,” Dr. McCullough said.

In addition to the effects on pulse and heart rate to date, preliminary results indicate the canine encounters appear to improve anxiety levels among parents. Parents in the control group report fluctuating anxiety levels with peaks and valleys; parents in the treatment group show more consistency in anxiety levels, and even a small decline in anxiety levels by the end of their participating in the study. Overall, children in both groups saw a decrease in anxiety over the course of their study enrollment. Researchers are also gauging the therapy dogs’ temperament and behavior during the visits.

“This study will be a milestone in understanding of the benefits of the vital bond shared between people and animals,” Dr. McCullough said.

Source:  American Academy of Pediatrics media release

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Pet therapy and how it helps cancer patients

Therapy dogs may improve the emotional well-being of some cancer patients, according to results of a clinical study, the first to document the benefits of animal-assisted therapy in adult cancer patients. The research was published this month in the Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology.

The results show a significant improvement in quality of life for more than 40 patients who took part in a trial at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City, where they interacted with therapy dogs following chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation

Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation

The study, conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, found that patients receiving intensive multi-modal radiation therapy and chemotherapy for gastrointestinal, head or neck cancers experienced increases in emotional well-being and quality of life when they received visits from a certified therapy dog during the course of their treatment.

Increases in emotional well-being were significant over the course of the animal-assisted visits, even as patients underwent marked and significant declines in both physical and functional well-being.

“This study is the first such definitive study in cancer, and it highlights the merits of animal- assisted visits using the same scientific standards as we hold for the cancer treatment itself. It shows the importance of an innovative environmental intervention during cancer treatment,” said Stewart B. Fleishman, MD, principal investigator and Founding Director of Cancer Supportive Services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. “Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved their quality of life and ‘humanized’ a high-tech treatment,” he said. “Patients said they would have stopped their treatments before completion, except for the presence of the certified Good Dog Foundation therapy dog and volunteer handler.”

“Thanks to this rigorously designed study, we now have strong evidence that pet therapy is an effective tool to help cancer patients get through challenging treatments,” said Gabriel A. Sara, MD, Medical Director, Infusion Suite at Mount Sinai Roosevelt, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The study has been called another piece of ‘mounting evidence’ of how the human-animal bond can enhance emotional and physical health.

If you would like to pass on the journal article to your oncologist/hospital provider,  you can access it here.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Immunotherapy hope

There is a form of cancer treatment called immunotherapy, where antibodies inhibit tumor growth.  Until now, such therapy wasn’t available for dogs.  A research team at Messerli Research Institute of the Vetmeduni Vienna, the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna have now developed antibodies to treat cancer in dogs.

The newly developed antibody brings hope for dogs. (Photo by:  Michael Bernkopf / Vetmeduni Vienna)

The newly developed antibody brings hope for dogs. (Photo by: Michael Bernkopf / Vetmeduni Vienna)

Since cancer cells bear very specific antigens on the surface, the corresponding antibodies bind to these molecules and inhibit tumor growth.  A destructive signal sent by the antibody to the inside of the cancer cell initiates its death. In a second mechanism, the immune system of the patient also destroys the “marked” tumor in a more efficient way.

Josef Singer and Judith Fazekas, both lead authors of the study, discovered that a receptor frequently found on human tumor cells (epidermal growth factor receptor or EGFR) is nearly 100 percent identical with the EGF receptor in dogs. In human medicine EGFR is frequently used as the target of cancer immunotherapy because many cancer cells bear this receptor on their surface. The so-called anti-EGFR antibody binds to cancer cells and thus triggers the destruction of the cells. “Due to the high similarity of the receptor in humans and dogs, this type of therapy should work well in dogs too,” the scientists say. The binding site of the antibody to EGFR in man and dogs differs only in respect of four amino acids.

The head of the study, Professor Erika Jensen-Jarolim, explains as follows: “We expect dogs to tolerate these anti-cancer antibodies well. This will be investigated in clinical studies in the future and is expected to greatly improve the treatment as well as the diagnosis of cancer in dogs.”

The newly developed antibody provides an additional benefit for dogs. As in human medicine, antibodies can be coupled with signal molecules. When the antibody binds to a cancer cell in the organism, the coupled antibody – in this case a radioactive isotope – can be rendered visible and is thus able to show where tumors and even metastases are located. When the selected isotope also contributes to the decay of cancer cells, the approach is known as “theranostics” (therapy and diagnostics).

In veterinary medicine, immunotherapy will be employed for the treatment of mammary ridge cancer (milk line cancer) in dogs. It may also be used as part of a combination therapy.

The team have published their study results in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

Source: Vetmeduni Vienna media release