Saving dogs: Pet overpopulation is a serious problem in the US. Despite guidelines from the AVMA and early spay/neuter programs, too many unwanted dogs are born, end up homeless and suffer incredible hardships. Statistics from the ASPCA report that 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters every year. These are estimates, the real number may be higher as many may not be brought to shelters and counted. Some are reunited with their owners and others find new homes thanks to the incredible work of animal shelters and rescue organizations, but too many never make it out of shelters. These dogs are considered less adoptable for various reasons, and dogs with mammary tumors belong to this category. They are older, they have tumors and require expensive treatments, and their long-term prognosis may be uncertain. Therefore, they belong to the most vulnerable in the shelter population. These are the dogs we want to help through Lesley’s Place. We believe their lives are worth saving, which is a worthy cause in itself, but by saving them we can also learn more about breast cancer and contribute to science. Importantly, the care they will receive through Lesley’s Place will not only provide treatment for their mammary tumors, but also render them more adoptable and the opportunity for a new lease on life in a good home.
Advancing research: What can studying dogs with mammary tumors teach us about breast cancer in women? The other purpose of this program is to advance breast cancer research. Mammary tumors in dogs and breast cancer in women remain a common cause of cancer mortality all over the world. Only through research can we change this, and we believe that we can change this even faster through innovative comparative and translational research. In fact, by using dogs with naturally occurring mammary cancer we can answer question regarding breast cancer development and progression that remain some of the most challenging questions in breast cancer biology. Mammary tumors in dogs and breast cancer in women have many similarities in terms of risk factors, hormonal dependence, molecular alterations and biological behavior. Hormone receptor positive breast cancers are the most common subtypes in both dogs and women and associated with a better prognosis than the hormone receptor negative group. Drug resistance and metastasis remain the most common cause for treatment failures and death in both groups. To date, much of what is done for dogs with mammary tumors is based on what is done for women with breast cancer. Thus, women with breast cancer are models for dogs with mammary tumors. Because of the shorter biological natural life span in dogs we believe that studying dogs with mammary tumors can provide faster results and help us fill in the gaps in our current knowledge of breast carcinogenesis and progression and therefore provide a relevant and comprehensive model for human breast cancer.