This is a question I am often asked by family and friends who are looking for a dog. The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is yes–ALL breeds, ALL dogs, ALL cats have a risk for getting cancer in their lifetime. Just as all people have a chance of getting this awful disease. As it turns out, the overall risk is about 30% overall, whether you are a dog, cat, human or even a blue whale (as Carl Zimmer pointed out in a recent blog post (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2011/02/28/the-mere-existence-of-whales/).
Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain dogs- these are some of the breeds we often think of when talking about cancer. Lymphoma is common in Goldens, Boxers and many other breeds. Osteosarcoma is all too familiar for owners of Rottweilers, Greyhounds, and giant breeds in general. The Scottish Terrier has an 18 fold higher chance of developing bladder cancer (transitional cell carcinoma) than the average dog.
In a recent landmark study, researchers determined the breed-specific causes of death (Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 2011; 25 (2): 187 ). As it turns out, cancer is one of, if not the leading cause of death in larger dogs.
The unfortunate truth: any dog or cat can develop cancer. I have seen mutts, mixed breeds, dogs of all shapes and sizes develop cancer. There is no breed that is immune from this disease. So the best advice I can give you if you are looking for a pet–find a dog or cat that you love, whether that be through a rescue organization or a breeder. Take care of the pet with routine health check ups, a complete and balanced diet, and as the pet gets older, talk to your veterinarian about screening tests for cancer–catching this diseaese early is still helpful whether you are a dog, cat or person.