The news is awash with things that cause cancer in people – from cell phones to cigarette smoke to every food additive known to mankind. Despite the variety of opinions on this subject, precious little expressed about the effect of environment on human cancer is based on scientific fact. Even less accurate information is available about the impact of environmental factors on causes of cancer in our pets.
One of the clearest known correlations is the link between gastrointestinal lymphoma and cigarette smoke in cats. Cats exposed to cigarettes ingest toxins from the smoke as they routinely lick to groom their hair coats. Cats also have an increased risk of developing oral squamous cell carcinomas as their exposure to cigarette smoke increases.
In cats and dogs, as in people, asbestos exposure increases the risk of mesothelioma.
Studies have shown that the use of insecticides, especially flea & tick dips (but not the spot-on products), can increase the risk of bladder cancer in dogs. Herbicides, particularly the chemical 2,4 D, increase a dog’s risk of developing lymphoma. Other factors that may elevate a pet’s risk of developing lymphoma include living in an urban environment, exposure to paints or solvents, and exposure to electromagnetic fields.
Given these snippets of research information-clearly more remains to be done-pet owners can significantly reduce a pet’s risk of developing cancer by following common sense guidelines: Don’t smoke, and if you must smoke, do so only outside of your home; don’t expose your pets to chemical herbicides or asbestos; don’t use flea and tick dips on your pets.
Recognize that our pets share our environmental risk factors and similar biological pathways for developing cancer. Veterinary and medical professionals working together to research comparative oncology, the study of these naturally occurring cancers in pets and people, may offer the best hope of rapidly developing effective treatment and cure! For more information on comparative oncology please visit the Animal Cancer Foundation (www.acfoundation.org)
Gerald Post, DVM, MEM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Owner, The Veterinary Cancer Center
129 Glover Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06850