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Cancer, Part 1 – Causes of Cancer

Sometimes it seems the universe sends cases, people, or animals into my life for a lesson I need. I always say “our animals are special angels with their lessons for us”. Of late, cancer cases seem to be finding me. Not just in client cases, but in my own animals. Just like I always expect the dentist to have perfect teeth, you might assume that vets are immune to the devastating effects of cancer in their pets. Well, not so. As hard as I try to do the right things, I have had two dogs and a horse die of cancer in the past 5 years. I am listening here! I am listening to the lessons taught by those patients who have passed on, and those I am currently treating….What works, what does not, what seems to make them happier and what treatments they will accept, and those that are a struggle.

I am studying about cancer all the time and the more I know, the more I realize we don’t know. Facts I have personally observed in 30 years of practice follow. Meddling with a tumor can make it grow faster. ( known as “old wives tale”.)Removal of a tumor does not remove the disease. Surgical removal of a tumor can make the metastatic small tumors take off and grow faster. Some tumors in animals are caused by viruses. Cancer is a disease to live with and there are a multitude of ways to improve the outcome. The day of diagnosis is not by any means,  the day of onset, and, in fact , the patient has been living with cancer for months to years prior to histologic diagnosis.

My own opinions follow, and they are based on scientific study. Cancer is truly an aberration in immune function and genetics play a huge role. Just look at the various breeds of dogs and their predisposition to certain cancers! Purebred dogs have a limited gene pool and many generations in a short number of human years. Just think,  you can have 100 generations of dogs in the span of one human lifetime! Why do you think we study mice and rats? Their numbers of generations are way up there! So, defective or damaged DNA is perpetuated down the line. It is well accepted that carcinogens act by damage to DNA, thereby being the environmental factor.

There is much study on nutrigenomics, where nutrients can turn on or off genetic expression. Look it up! Very interesting emerging field in veterinary medicine.  I think that we will find that cancer’s origin goes back years during development of the animal and that the stage is already set once the tumors show up. Just my opinion here, but this is nothing new. We know that years of exposure to carcinogens will catch up sooner or later. Years of poor nutrition will catch up in many degenerative diseases in dogs and humans. (My theories on osteoporosis in cows and nutrition in dogs are food for another day’s story.)

Didn’t you always wonder how one person can live dangerously, nutritionally speaking, and another can be so careful and the one you think will get cancer does not, and the healthy one does? That’s genetics. Some people are just lucky in that department, or not.

In a family where there is breast cancer, why do some members get the disease and some do not when they may all have the genetic markers? That’s nutrigenomics. Something is turning on those cancer genes for expression. Just my opinion here, but if there are genes for cancer, then there must necessarily be genes which protect against cancer, those that direct our immune systems.  Damaging these genes too will cause our defenses to fail.

I don’t mean to be depressing, but I think we all deal with cancer in our lives more than we want to. Just let me say that the cancer cases in animals are alarming. Horses get cancer…well it’s not from smoking. Most horses in these parts live a pretty healthy lifestyle. Solar radiation is a factor in horses’ and cows’ cancers, viruses have been proven to cause cancer in cattle and be transmitted through body fluids and milk incidentally. Viruses do alter DNA or RNA by definition. Our immune systems are equipped to handle viruses on a daily basis but some part of the system fails with certain viruses, and maybe more than we currently know. Dogs in a city I used to live in were always walking thru our doors with lymphoma. Here a rural town was notably one of the most polluted in the state due to a chemical industry. Gotta think there’s some environmental factor here. Osteosarcoma is rampant in the unfortunate Rottweiler. I used to joke about “designer dogs” but now I think a genetic mixing is a grand idea! Still, don’t tell me yours is a purebred Cockerpoo! Go to the pound and get yourself a loving Heinz 57 with a good mix of genetics, please!

I’d love to hear your feedback on this subject. Next time, Part Two will discuss treatment of cancer.


December 19, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Dr. Lewter! Love the blog- very informative & interesting.
    My soon to be brother-in-law is doing some incredible cancer research at Virginia Tech. He has been testing a theory and protype design to shrink tumors using directed electrical currents. Partnering with the veterinary department he has had incredible success with terminally ill canine patients. Essentially his invention could make cancer treatment an out patient service without chemotherapy. The whole biomedical department at Tech is impressive when it comes to cancer research. If you would like to learn about what they are doing I can get your information to my sister.

    Comment by Jessica Borneman | February 6, 2012 | Reply

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