Human chemotherapy drugs help pets with cancer

Pausing with pets

May 08, 1991|By Ellen Hawks | Ellen Hawks,Eening Sun Staff

TWO LOCAL veterinarians are giving chemotherapy to several older animals that have cancer.

Jean Townsend and Marian Siegel, graduates of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, both feel that as long as a quality life is still possible for the pet, it is worth it.

They are treating three of their own pets and three patients following a treatment ''devised by veterinarian Ann Jeglum from Chester County, Pa., who is an animal oncologist," says Townsend.

''We are by no means the first veterinarians to use human chemotherapy drugs. Many follow some standard practices with them; however, our use of them is possibly a little different.''

Oncologists have known for years that cancer is a defect in the immune system, she says. The therapy was designed to suppress the immune system. ''However, Jeglum's theory is to turn on the immune system to fight its own cancer cells, and it appears very effective.

''She has pioneered the monoclonal antibody treatment of intravenous injections of drugs, which helps the animal make its own antibodies which will bind with its cancer cells and kill them,'' says Townsend.

In this treatment, all cells are hit, but the cancer cells are the fastest growing and will be killed first. ''While some normal cells are also lost, the large loss of cancer cells can put the animal in remission. It could be compared to beating a fire down to a reasonable roar,'' she explains.

Siegel says that when cancer is diagnosed, a drug is sought which will not only agree with the patient but can be best used against that kind of cancer. The drug is then administered in cycles of intravenous injections or oral medications.

''Treating the older pet is not something everyone would do. However, some owners will opt to pursue remission. Either decision is perfectly OK because there are no positives or negatives here and no absolutes. What we are after is helping that owner who wants desperately to hold on to his pet if it can have quality life," Siegel says.

''We are not hitting the pet as hard with drugs as humans are when their physicians are going for a real cure. Our goal is to slow down the cancer in a pet and hope for a remission. Like humans, animals under chemotherapy treatment do lose some hair and have some sickness.''

Siegel's more than 15-year-old Norwegian elkhound is in remission after eight weeks of treatment.

''Gus was diagnosed in January with canine lymphoma. It involves all of the lymph nodes, which become grossly swollen like baseballs. His initial treatment lasted eight weeks. The first drug chosen gave him a severe stomach upset. But I found one that was easy on him. And it worked. His treatment consisted of four weeks on therapy, one week off and then repeat,'' says Siegel. ''I'm so glad I did it. I owed it to him. Now it is so incredible. He is sleeping a lot and eating well. And, even at his age, he has been trying to mate my female Norwegian elkhound, and what Gus wants Gus will get,'' she laughs.

Townsend's two cats are a 16-year-old domestic shorthair named Pixie, who has lived with lymphoma 14 months longer than expected, and Brandy, a 15-year-old Siamese with squamous cell carcinoma diagnosed five weeks ago and who is responding well.

''A cat's lymphoma acts differently than canine lymphoma. Generally it will attack one internal organ. Pixie just

didn't seem well, and upon examination I found a huge mass in her stomach that turned out to be an oversized kidney taking up most of her abdomen space. It was removed, and I didn't know what I was dealing with until the biopsy came back. After treatment she has been doing very well for more than a year,'' says Townsend.

Brandy's cancer was discovered six weeks ago when Townsend noticed she wasn't grooming herself. ''When I looked inside her mouth I found a very swollen red meaty condition that was pushing her tongue up. Her breath was fowl, and a biopsy of the tissues confirmed squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer of the tissues which is often fatal within several months because they can't eat. Brandy is on treatment, and I am encouraged. In fact, their quality of life is a pain in the rear. They are into everything, eating like horses and I'm spoiling them rotten,'' she chuckles.

Both veterinarians practice at the Anne Arundel Veterinary Hospital at 4800 Ritchie Highway, It is owned by veterinarians Greg Herbert and Stanley Schultz. ''We've learned much from them -- Townsend and Siegel. They are having successes,'' Herbert says.

The veterinarians say their drugs come from a chemical firm in Florida that specializes in chemotherapy drugs for humans.

Cost of such treatment depends on many factors, such as size of pet, type of cancer, treatment and such. It can range from around $300 to more than $1,000. Townsend says that now Pixie takes one pill every five weeks, which costs $3. Siegel's Gus is not on any medication.

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