Early Cancer Diagnosis for Your Pet

One of the most exciting things veterinarians can offer their clients is the ability to diagnose diseases early, before the disease is so advanced as to hinder our ability to reverse its course and really help our patients. Since cancer is the most feared and lethal disease doctors treat, it would be ideal if there were some way to increase our chance of finding cancer, as well as conditions that increase the chance of cancer developing, BEFORE the pet develops Stage 4 cancer that has already spread and will end the petís life soon after diagnosis.

The good news is that there is a series of simple, inexpensive blood tests, bundled into a diagnostic panel, that now allow doctors to detect cancer and other serious problems before they develop in your pet. VDI Laboratories has developed a profile of tests called InCase that tests for 2 biochemical markers of inflammation and cancer. When combined with their Vitamin D test, this unique profile, for the first time, gives your petís doctor a simple way to analyze your petís cancer risk.

The profile tests for 3 specific markers:TK (thymidine kinase,) CRP (C-reactive protein,) and Vitamin D-3 (cats are tested for haptoglobin as an inflammatory marker rather than CRP.)

The TK (thymidine kinase) level corresponds to levels of this enzyme in the petís blood. If increased, there is a high likelihood of cancer somewhere in the body or a high likelihood of cancer developing within the next 4-6 months if steps are not taken to lower the TK levels. However, TK levels may also increase with undiagnosed infections as the TK enzyme is shed by rapidly dividing cells such as bacteria, rickettsia, viruses, as well as cancer (making it useful as a general health profile to screen for infectious diseases as well.)

In the healthy pet, an increased TK level indicates the possibility of cancer, just as an increased PSA level in men indicates the possibility of prostate cancer or other prostatic issues (precancerous or infectious conditions that often respond to treatment before cancer develops.) However, pets with increased levels of TK may not have active cancer but may have precancerous elevations of TK that respond to holistic treatment. Further testing is necessary to monitor TK levels and look for cancer.

In my practice, pets with increased TK levels are supplemented with specific herbal remedies (Healthy Qi, CA Support, etc.) to support their immune systems. Retesting of the blood is done 1 month later. If TK levels are back to normal, no further testing is needed except to follow the TK levels (and vitamin D and CRP) in 4 months. If TK levels continue to increase then we must search further for the reason why itís increasing. Persistent elevation of TK levels predicts the likelihood of cancer developing over the next 6 months.

Since chronic inflammation leads to many diseases including cancer, itís important to know if inflammation is present and to treat it accordingly so that serious diseases do not appear. In dogs and people, testing levels of C-reactive protein (CRP,) the second part of this important blood profile, is done to check for harmful levels of inflammation (in cats testing for a different inflammatory protein, Haptoglobin (Hpt) is useful.)

Chronic Inflammation Damages Cells. If long-term inflammation leads to the production of free radicals and other destructive agents, tissues/organs in the presence of these agents can lead, with sufficient time, to cellular alterations resulting in disease and cancer. There has been a long standing and studied relationship between cancer and inflammation. In cancer, there is evidence that inflammation plays an essential role at each stage of the disease (initiation and proliferation), and both tumor and inflammatory cells are able to directly or indirectly either inhibit or stimulate tumor growth. The effectiveness of tumor development has been demonstrated to correlate directly with the degree of the inflammatory reactions, and it seems that there are interactions between the cytokine chemicals produced by white blood cells in response to inflammatory reactions and tumor growth and even indications that inflammatory cytokines favor tumor promotion. Furthermore, with the assistance of inflammation, tumor cells infiltrate neighboring tissues, enter the bloodstream, migrate, and establish remote colonies (i.e., metastases)

Diagnosing and treating inflammation at the early stage is essential to try to prevent cancer. In pets with elevated CRP or Hpt levels, specific nutritional supplements antioxidants, fatty acids, etc.) are administered to reduce harmful inflammatory proteins. Diseases know to be associated with inflammation such as dental disease, arthritis, and allergies are diagnosed and treated appropriately to reduce inflammation in the body. The blood is retested in 1 month and CRP/Hpt levels should return to normal. If not, further investigation of inflammation and cancer is undertaken.

The final step in this blood profile is to check your petís level of Vitamin D-3. Vitamin D-3 is not simply thought of as a vitamin to protect bones anymore. Instead it has far reaching effects on every cell in the body, regulating metabolism and gene expression. As such, proper levels of Vitamin D-3 can have cancer-protective (and cancer-killing) effects, reduce the risk of infectious diseases such as the flu and canine and feline respiratory infections, and promote good health and proper regulation of other body systems.

Unlike people, pets do not typically make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight and therefore require it in their diets or via supplementation.

While pet food is formulated to have enough vitamin D-3 to prevent vitamin D-3 deficiency disease (rickets,) levels are too low for most pets to maximize health. Testing shows most dogs have blood levels considered insufficient to maximize health and would benefit from supplementation. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to inflammation, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and various infectious diseases.

Exactly how much vitamin D-3 an individual patient requires depends upon the size of the pet, the health of the pet, the presence/absence of disease, and most importantly the petís blood level of vitamin D-3. Once vitamin D-3 test results are available, supplementation is given with the goal being to shoot for a blood level of 100 mg/ml (in studies pets with cancers tended to have vitamin D-3 blood levels lower than 100.) Additional testing is done to confirm if the prescribed amount of vitamin D-3, typically given once daily with food, is enough to reach the recommended blood level.

While these tests are very helpful to determine the status of your petís health before they become ill, they are also helpful to monitor pets with cancer. For pets already diagnosed with cancer, monitoring levels of TK, CRP/Hpt, and vitamin D is used to change our treatment and predict when the cancer may return and when the pet may come out of remission. Fine tuning therapy prior to a failure of remission may keep the pet cancer free longer.

My research in doing this profile for dogs in our practice in Texas shows that about 96% of my canine patients are low in blood vitamin D levels, 48% are high in their CRP levels, and 12% are high in their TK levels.

This profile is also quite helpful for pets with cancer to monitor their remissions and alter their treatment regimen based upon changes in the test.

While these tests are important for both the apparently healthy pet as well as the pet with cancer, unfortunately most veterinarians do not offer them. Talk with your petís doctor about using these important tests to keep your pet healthy. And if your pet shows an abnormality on any part of the test, treatment using natural remedies is easy and usually effective in restoring the tests to normal and your pet to health!