CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - We love our pets. In fact half of all families in the United States have a dog.
Of all of those dogs, 4 million will develop cancer as they age. Of that 4 million, only one million will be treated for their disease due to cost and access to treatment.
Those statistics were shared with WBTV by both the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine and the Duke Cancer Institute. The two top-tier educational institutions are joining forces on a study that not only could help pets by providing new and potentially life-saving treatments, but could also speed along trials of treatments that could one day be used in humans.
"When it comes to basketball, competition on the court is fine. When it comes to cancer we are all on the same team and we do a lot of work together," Dr. Michael Kastan, the Executive Director of the Duke Cancer Institute told us.
The work is being done on dogs who have already developed cancer, they are not given the disease for the benefit of the trial, and in many cases the trials are the only option for pet owners.
It turns out many of the cancers dogs get, humans do, too. Dogs also happen to make really good case studies and test subjects because cancer progresses more rapidly in dogs than humans.
"Just like they age faster. They also develop side effects more quickly. If we tried to do this work without pet dogs it would take 10 years to gauge the results and in this case with pet animals it might take 3 years instead," said Dr. Michael Nolan, Assistant Professor of radiation oncology at NC State School of Veterinary Medicine.
That could speed the route to human trials.
We met Rosie, an aging shelter dog, whose adoptive mom Meg enrolled her in one of those clinical trials at NC State. She's getting a new kind of radiation because surgery and traditional treatments wouldn't eliminate the tumor in her mouth.
"I knew she wasn't one of those dogs that was ready to leave. She's still full of spunk," said Meg.
After a 10-day treatment, "Her tumor is already starting to shrink and that is a bit unexpected and encouraging," Dr. Nolan said.
"She's no worse now finishing her treatment than when she started. The benefit to her kind and the human race is her way of paying it forward," Meg said.