Treating a Pet for Cancer?

My 10-year-old black lab has progressive transitional cell carcinoma. Are there any foods or herbs that could help him?

– April 15, 2004

Transitional cell carcinoma in canines is a disease that is similar to bladder cancer in humans. Unfortunately, this malignancy is very hard to treat and is often fatal within several months. (Humans don’t fare much better when bladder cancer begins to spread.) The disease affects the "transitional cells" that line the inside of the bladder and protect the underlying tissues from the irritating effects of urine. Although bladder tumors are rare in pets, as many as 70 percent of those that do occur are transitional cell carcinomas.

Conventional veterinary medicine has little to offer in the way of treatment. If the tumor is small, surgery may be recommended, but this means removing part of the bladder, too. As a result, the dog will need to urinate more frequently. Another problem with surgery is that it may not be possible to remove all the cancerous tissue (usually because the surgeon isn’t able to determine the margins of the tumor just by looking at the surrounding tissue). If all of the cancer isn’t removed, the disease usually recurs within a year.

Chemotherapy (with the drug doxorubicin) can extend survival for almost a year, according to one report I read. Vets are also treating transitional cell carcinoma with the drug piroxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, given daily, and sometimes combined with another drug, mitroxantrone, given intravenously every three weeks for a total of four treatments. Results have been encouraging enough to lead to trials of piroxicam in humans with bladder cancer.

Radiation therapy is available, too, usually performed in conjunction with chemotherapy or surgery.

In addition to whatever conventional veterinary treatment you may have decided upon, I would recommend giving your dog a tonic made with medicinal mushrooms that can enhance immune-system function. Alternatively, try MycoSoft Gold, another medicinal-mushroom mixture designed to boost immune function. I’ve given both of these products to dogs with good results.

Best of luck to you and your pooch.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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