The medical team at VCA is committed to providing the best care for pets, and part of their investment in that cause is research that helps veterinarians learn how well specific approaches work in specific types of cases. In fact, VCA created a Clinical Studies group, overseen by Dr. Philip Bergman, a specialist in veterinary cancer care, to coordinate studies that leverage the cutting-edge care veterinarians provide every day at VCA. 

Recently the VCA team published a study headed by Dr. Sarah Boston about the outcome after surgery for young dogs with oral squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer of the mouth. To conduct the study, the researchers worked with the Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology to solicit cases for review.

“We got interested in doing the research in part because I had recently seen several puppies in a row with this type of cancer,” says Dr. Sarah Boston, the veterinary surgical oncologist who was the primary investigator of the study. “It’s devastating for pet owners to learn their four- or six-month-old puppy has cancer, and we want to give them the best information we can when they’re deciding what treatments to pursue for their pets. It’s more common to see cancer in older dogs, and I could tell the pet owners how older dogs responded to the treatment. But we wondered if the outcomes were the same in puppies.”

By working with members of the Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology, the research team could look at enough cases to learn more about how puppies respond to the surgery.  “If I have two or three cases, I can only speak to my anecdotal experience,” says Dr. Boston. “But if a whole group of us puts our two or three cases together, we can get much clearer about what to expect.”
The research team reviewed 25 cases of dogs younger than 2 years old with oral squamous cell carcinoma, and the results, published in the scientific journal Veterinary Surgery, showed good news: The puppies in the study appear to be living a normal lifespan after the procedure.

In these cases, veterinary specialists typically biopsy the tumor site, complete CT scans, and perform surgery to remove the tumor with wide margins. All the dogs in the study underwent partial maxillectomy or mandibulectomy, which is surgical removal of part of the upper or lower jaw to remove the tumor. 

The research followed the puppies’ health for a minimum of three months and as long as 12 years. Across the group, the follow up lasted a median of about four years. None of the dogs had a recurrence of the cancer.

“It’s great to have such good, long-term documentation of the cases. It shows us that the dogs may live a normal lifespan with treatment,” says Dr. Boston. “When I’m talking to the pet owner at diagnosis, they’re deciding whether to move ahead with a difficult and costly surgery. I feel better when I can give them more information about what to expect. And it’s great that the study outcomes are so positive.”

Sarah Boston, DVM, DVSC, DACVS, ACVS Founding Fellow of Surgical Oncology, ACVS Founding Fellow of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, is a surgical oncologist at VCA Canada Mississauga Oakville Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Ontario, Canada and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Guelph. Dr. Boston joined the VCA family in February 2018. She is Past-President of the Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology and has authored numerous journal articles and textbook chapters on surgical oncology. Sarah is also a cancer survivor and author of Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved my Life. In her spare time, she enjoys writing and stand up comedy, as well as spending time with her husband, Steve, her dog, Rumble.
“"It’s great to have such good, long-term documentation of the cases. It shows us that the dogs may live a normal lifespan with treatment."”