Nov 112008
Authors: Jim Sojourner

CSU’s Animal Cancer Center has been working on a new, advanced radiation treatment against bone cancer, which could potentially save the lives of children stricken with the disease.

The radiation treatment, known as stereotactic radiosurgery, is a state-of-the-art procedure currently being implemented with dogs that have osteosarcoma, the most common primary bone cancer found in both humans and in dogs.

Stewart Ryan, a researcher at the Animal Cancer Center, said study is focused on finding a transitional application for the radiation treatment for humans.

“It’s a really exciting study and it’s got a lot of potential,” Ryan said.

According to Susan LaRue, a doctor with the center, the cancer is relatively common in dogs but rare in humans, who generally develop the disease between 10 and 20 years of age.

“The disease happens to kids, which is hard,” LaRue said.

Chemotherapy and amputation are the traditional methods of treating cancer, Ryan said, but the progress in radiation treatment could help to extend patient survival time by years and save their limbs.

“While amputation is fine, it’s really nice if you can keep your arms or keep your legs,” said LaRue, who is collaborating with Ryan on the project.

Ryan said in the past, one of the limiting factors of radiation is that it has the potential to severely damage tissues surrounding the treated tumors.

However, Ryan said the new radiosurgery uses the Varian Trilogy Accelerator, which is able to target a tumor within two millimeters of precision and deliver a much higher dose to the tumor, regardless of its shape and size, than to the skin or surrounding tissue.

The accelerator has been used in human treatment for some time, but CSU’s is the first to be used at a veterinary hospital.

Ryan said several case studies have been completed with the machine and have been very successful with many types of cancer, including brain cancer.

“What hasn’t been done is bone cancer,” Ryan said.

Because dogs and humans share similar environmental factors, Ryan said, the canines are ideal candidates for the study, which deals with cancer that arises spontaneously, not cancer that is artificially induced.

Since dogs also have a naturally shorter life span, Ryan said clinical information on the effects of the treatment can be gathered in a relatively short time period.

The dogs in the study will receive the full range of cancer treatment, including three radiation treatments and chemotherapy, in order to assess how much of the cancer has been killed, Ryan said.

He said he hopes that 90 to 95 percent of the cancer will be eliminated so he can begin working on making the treatment accessible to humans.

However, Ryan said future humans would not be the only ones to benefit from the study.

In cases where amputation is used to treat bone cancer, a tissue from a cadaver or an artificial compound is often used to replace amputated tissue in humans.

In dogs, replacement limb procedures are only possible near the wrist, so many end up without a limb.

Ryan said if this treatment study is successful, amputation could be unnecessary in the future and may also help dogs who “are not good candidates for amputation” or owners who don’t want their pets’ limbs amputated.

“It means more dogs get to keep their legs,” Ryan said.

In addition to the dogs receiving comprehensive treatment, Ryan said the cost of the radiation, amputation and two chemo treatments is covered for owners who volunteer their sick pets.

“We can help the individual dog, dogs as a whole and translate it into something that helps kids,” LaRue said.

Senior Reporter Jim Sojourner can be reached at

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