Ground breaking new cancer treatment in dogs

Pharmaceutical company, Virbac, have launched a new product for the treatment of mast cell tumours in dogs.


The injectable drug (named Stelfonta) contains a unique compound extracted from the seed of a shrub from the Australian rainforest!


Learn more about mast cell tumours in dogs, and what makes this new drug so exciting below.


What are mast cell tumours?

Mast cells tumours are cancerous growths made up of mast cells.


Mast cells form part of the body's immune system. They can be found anywhere in the body but are most numerous in the the places where the internal and external environments meet, for example in the skin, lungs and gastrointestinal tract.


Where do mast cell tumours grow?

Most commonly, mast cell tumours grow as nodules or masses in, or just underneath, the skin. They account for more than 20% of all skin cancers in dogs.


Mast cell tumours can metastasise (spread) to elsewhere in the body. Common sites include the spleen, liver and lymph nodes.


What do mast cell tumours look like?

The appearance and size of mast cell tumours can vary. Many appear as a raised lump on or just underneath the skin.


Mast cells contain granules filled with histamine, an important component of the body's inflammatory and allergic reaction. Histamine released from mast cell tumours can cause the lump to be red or ulcerated, to swell or shrink in size, and sometimes to cause the dog irritation. If released into the bloodstream, the histamine can also cause more serious effects such as stomach ulceration, a drop in blood pressure and shock.


How are mast cell tumours diagnosed?

Any new lump or bump appearing in a dog should be checked out by a vet. The vet will likely advise a diagnostic test called a fine need aspirate is carried out.


A fine need aspirate (FNA) is when a need is used to suck a small sample of cells from inside the tumour. The cells are then looked at under the microscope (a technique called cytology). This can often be done without the need for sedation or anaesthesia.


Once a diagnosis is made, a surgical biopsy is sometimes necessary to determine how aggressive the tumour is, and the best course of treatment.


Additional tests such as blood tests, radiography (x-rays), ultrasound, CT or MRI scans can also be used to identify whether the tumour has spread elsewhere in the body.


How are mast cell tumours treated?

Mast cell tumours are usually removed surgically. In some cases, this can be curative. In other cases, follow on treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy might be required.


How might the new drug, Stelfonta, be used?

Sometimes the size and/or location of the tumour means that it cannot be removed entirely, causing cancerous cells to get left behind. As a result, the tumour might regrow or spread elsewhere in the body.


Surgery might also not be feasible or the safest option for some dogs, such as those which are elderly or have severe underlying health issues which put the at increased anaesthetic risk.


This new drug offers an alternative treatment option for those dogs in which mast cell tumours cannot be surgically removed.


How does the drug work?

Stelfonta is injected directly into the tumour itself, often without the need for sedation or anaesthesia. It stimulates the body's own immune system into destroying the tumour and its blood supply.


Worried about your dog?

There are many different types or lumps and lumps that affect dogs. Not all are cancerous, but it is impossible to tell just by looking at them or touching them.


If you are worried about a lump or bump in your dog, always get them checked out by a vet.