Do you know we are all only 6 steps away from cancer?
A scary thought, but it is known as the "six-degrees-of-separation-from-cancer" rule. Ask any biological question, no matter how seemingly distant, and you will end up in six genetic steps or less finding a pro-tumor or anti-tumor suppressor factor. (1)
Many of us have experienced first hand cancer and its devastating effects, whether in ourselves, a close family member or friend, or a beloved pet. While we have witnessed the leaps and bounds by which cancer diagnosis and treatment have come in human medical science, we often wonder if veterinary science has been left behind. Biomarkers such as Prostate Specific Antigen for prostate cancer, Cancer Antigen 15-3 for breast cancer, and ALK gene rearrangement for certain types of lymphoma (2) all were developed in the human medical field to help diagnose and monitor treatment of various cancers. Is there anything comparable for dogs and cats? Especially in the prevention and early detection phases of disease?
In fact there is.
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Drs. Selting et al investigated the use of two biomarkers to detect cancer in dogs (for you academic types, the biomarkers are Thymidine Kinase Type 1 and C-Reactive Protein). (3) They found increased concentrations of these two biomarkers in dogs with a wide-range of tumors including lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, histiocytic sarcoma, and many forms of carcinoma and sarcoma.
Interestingly, these values were also high in clinically normal dogs that were subsequently diagnosed with cancer 3-6 months later.
Thymidine Kinase Type 1 (TK1) is an enzyme responsible for the production of thymine during cell division. When dysregulated cell replication occurs (i.e. cancer), concentrations of TK1 skyrocket.
C-Reactive Protein is a biomarker of systemic inflammation. Since cancer is an inflammatory disease, elevations of CRP can indicate that an underlying cancer is the cause. CRP is also elevated with other causes of systemic inflammation such as trauma, infection, and toxins. This is why measured CRP values are more accurate when paired with measured TK1 values.
The combined use of these two biomarkers is called the Neoplasia Index. By using both markers in conjunction, you reduce the risk of false positives in cancer screening.
The Neoplasia Index is also directly correlated to the severity of neoplastic disease. The higher the Index, the more malignant the tumor, even if you haven't found the tumor yet. This is incredibly important for health screenings as we can use the degree of elevation in the Neoplasia Index to decide how aggressively we start looking for cancer or treat the ones we already know about. Conversely, a decrease in the Neoplasia Index can be an indication that our treatments are having positive effect on cancer resolution.
Now this is all well and good, you say, but surely these biomarker tests are only available at research facilities or universities, right?
Nope! Through one of our partner labs, VDI Laboratories, we provide The Canine Cancer Panel using a small blood sample from your dog. This panel tests both TK1 and CRP and calculates the Neoplasia Index to give a positive/negative predictor value for cancer in your pet. Once we receive the results, we at Kingsfoil Acupuncture & Integrative Veterinary Care offer a free consultation about the results including what diagnostics and/or treatments would be recommended next if your dog has a concerning Neoplasia Index value.
(Don't worry, although the cited study only pertains to dogs, there is also a Feline Cancer Panel available from VDI Labs, however it only accurately tests for the presence of intestinal lymphosarcoma)
This panel would be a great and easy addition to any annual health screenings as well as a great monitoring tool if your pet is currently being treated for certain types of cancer. Contact us today to make an appointment and take a proactive step towards securing the health of your pet for years to come!
1. Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. New York: Scribner, 2010.
2. National Cancer Institute. Tumor Markers. Available online at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/diagnosis/tumor-markers-fact-sheet. Accessed March 2019.
3. Selting, K.A., Ringold, R., Husbands, B. and Pithua, P.O. (2016), Thymidine Kinase Type 1 and C-Reactive Protein Concentrations in Dogs with Spontaneously Occurring Cancer. J Vet Intern Med, 30: 1159–1166. doi:10.1111/jvim.13954