Mast Cell Tumour
Can Mast Cell tumours be Cured? The short answer is YES. These tumours do respond very well to modern therapy, by using a combination of surgery or chemotherapy (sometimes radiation) along with immunomodulation therapy. In fact, this type of cancer has one of the best outcomes of any canine cancer . Lets look at what Mast Cell tumours are, how they form and the different treatment options available today.
What Are Mast Cells?
Mast Cells are a special type of cell, which are involved in immune function and found primarily in the skin (although they are also found throughout the body). They make up about 20% of the skin cells in a dog, and are responsible for allergy response, among other things. When the body is exposed to particular types of harmful substances, the mast cells release chemical called histamine, which causes the typical allergy-like response. They also produce other vital chemicals which the body needs to survive, called cytokines. Even though mast cells are primarily a type of immune cell, they can become cancerous.
Cancer is first and foremost an immune dysfunction disease. tumours form when the body fails to recognize as invaders the cells that have multiplied improperly. In the last few years specialized compounds have become available for use in cancer patients to try and correct this error. These are called immune modulators. These immune modulator compounds often trigger the patient's "immune recognition response" allowing the body to recognize and destroy the aberrant cells. When this recognition response is triggered, the body re-learns how to deal with the tumour cells as it would with any other wound, and destroys those aberrant cells, producing healthy scar tissue in their place.
These immune modulators are different than the class of drugs called Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs are toxic, and work by destroying the cancer cells directly. Chemotherapy drugs are very useful in combating canine cancer, in that they reduce the number of cancer cells present, but they do not address the underlying cause that allowed the cancer in the first place. Immune modulator compounds on the other hand are not toxic. They are a class of compounds called heteropolysaccharides, which are naturally occurring in our foods and are required in all mammals for triggering normal immune function. For some reason, in cancer patients large amounts of these immune modulators are required to trigger that normal rejection response, which in turn kills off the cancer cells.
Mast Cell tumours Respond Very Well to Combination Therapy
There are many sites detailing the reasons mast cell tumours form, and different technical information about mast cell tumours. These links can be found at the bottom of this page for those who wish to go into greater detail on the technical aspects. But for our purpose on this page, let's look at what can be done to treat your dog and overcome this terrible disease:
Historically, surgery has been the first line treatment for mast cell tumours. This is usually a very good option, depending on where the tumour is located, how extensively it has spread and whether any major organs or underlying structures are involved. After surgery, some type of chemotherapy drug is usually recommended to clean up any remaining cancer cell not removed by the surgery. Chemotherapy and surgery are both effective in removing the bulk of the tumours, but should be seen as only one arm of a multi-pronged approach. This is because we all know that surgery and chemotherapy do not cure cancer. The underlying cause of the cancer is still there, which is the immune dysfunction that allowed the tumour to form in the first place. Chemo and surgery do not deal with this underlying immune dysfunction. However, when chemo and surgery are used along with immune modulation therapy, the chances of a dog overcoming mast cell cancer and surviving a normal life span are excellent. Ultimately, it is only the patient's own immune system which can overcome the cancer. Until and unless the immune recognition response is triggered, the patient cannot overcome the cancer. That is why many Vets will tell you that the dog's life can only be extended, but that the cancer is still present. While this was certainly true in the past, modern research into immune modulation therapy as an adjunct to conventional therapy has proved this to be no longer true. Cancer cannot be cured, but can be put successfully into Remission.