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The New Cancer Treatment Saving Dogs' Lives

If you haven't heard about Stereotactic Radiation Therapy - don't worry, you will - because it's THE best and latest thing to treat a wide range of cancers in dogs without painful side effects. It should be called 'the one minute wonder' because that's how little time the newest high intensity radiation beam is switched on for each of the three treatments needed to blast many previously untreatable cancers into oblivion.

Here's our exclusive story about Australia's leading Oncologist who's been quietly racking up the success stories since starting treatments a year ago.

Killing cancers in under a week: this new treatment is saving dogs' lives! 

You can’t wipe the smile off Monica Boyle’s face. Her two-year old Border Collie X Missy is alive and well today ... despite being diagnosed with an inoperable carcinoma in her mouth ten months ago. 

And she’s just one of many dog owners whose cancer-stricken pets are now cancer-free!

“I’m so happy we heard about David,” Monica said “Without him we wouldn’t have known about this new treatment which was so easy and so fast and it saved Missy’s life.” She 

The ‘David’ she’s referring to is Veterinary Oncology Specialist Dr David Lurie who has been quietly helping scores of dogs (and cats) cheat death since his arrival in Australia last year from the United States where he’d been successfully treating pets with inoperable cancers with Stereotactic Radiation.

Although humans have been able to receive this type of treatment in Australia for some time there was nothing available for pets and until Dr Lurie arrived, no-one in the veterinary field with the qualifications and experience to carry out the highly specialised procedure.

Now based at Sydney’s Animal Referral Hospital & Emergency Centre, Dr Lurie became the first veterinary cancer specialist to use stereotactic radiation here…and ten months on he has numerous pet parents singing his praises. “He’s lovely – we just can’t believe our luck.” Monica said, before going on to tell us the full story. 

The Canberra-based family adopted Missy from the RSPCA to join their two other dogs. One day while playing with her they noticed blood on the rope toy and thought they must have been playing too rough.

However, Monica says from the look on their vet’s face when he saw the swollen lump in Missy’s mouth, they knew it was something much more serious. 

Missy's tumour before and after SRT treatment
“ When we first learned about Missy’s cancer we thought it would probably just be cut out, but the first specialist we spoke with discovered the tumour covered more than 50% of her palate so surgery wasn’t an option because to remove it we’d need to remove two-thirds of her face – which we knew for a 2-year old dog would not be a great quality-of-life.” she said. 

Monica says she was horrified and heart-broken, but immediately started looking for other options to try to control Missy’s tumour and learned they could get standard radiation therapy in either Brisbane or Melbourne as long as they could stay there for the 4 weeks the treatment would take.

“I was about to do just that when I heard about David Lurie at ARH in Sydney and when we met he said there was another alternative, it would take just 3 treatments over a week instead of a month and he could do it the following week.” Monica said.

Dr Lurie told Monica he couldn’t guarantee to cure Missy – but the results suggest differently. “Missy had 3 treatments and by the end of the last one there was significant reduction in the tumour,” Dr Lurie said. 

Two weeks later there was no detectable mass in her mouth meaning Missy was in complete clinical remission and now ten months down the road she’s still in remission and doing really well.” Dr Lurie added with a smile.

“It was kind of magic to us - just an absolute godsend. That’s why when her latest tests showed there are zero cancer cells in her mouth I couldn’t resist posting Missy’s photo on Facebook with the sign ‘I beat cancer’ Monica said. 

So what exactly is Stereotactic Radiation Therapy?

“Stereotactic radiation therapy for pets has been around in the US for about three or four years,” says Dr Lurie. 

“It requires pretty advanced imaging and delivery capability systems on the equipment to do this form of therapy but it's increasing in popularity because the big attraction with it is that it requires far fewer treatments or less time away from home for the patients and also far fewer side-effects - if any at all - so there's a growing demand for it and now happily we can provide that here.”

’ is the Oncology unit at the Animal Referral Hospital in Sydney which was thrilled when Dr Lurie joined the team 12 months ago as he is Australia’s only dual boarded oncologist. What that means is that Dr Lurie is a specialist in both medical oncology and radiation therapy oncology which means he and the ARH team are now providing the very latest multiple combinations of treatments to help bring different types of cancers under control. 

“I’d say it's more common that we're combining surgery and radiation or surgery and chemo or all three, and even immunotherapy in some instances for the best outcome because every patient is different so it’s not like one solution fits all” he added.
However it’s the results being achieved by Lurie with the new stereotactic radiation treatments he’s been doing for the past ten months that really grab your attention.

Misty before (L) Stereotactic Radiation Therapy and after (R)
Misty from Tasmania was diagnosed with a large inoperable nasal tumour which was giving her dreadful nose bleeds and making her quality of life so poor her owners were considering euthanasia. 

“ She’s 15 years old and she already beat bladder cancer 3 years ago,” said Jan Forbes “The option to have her put under general anaesthetic every day for 20 days for regular radiation horrified me. as I couldn’t put her through it.

Dr Lee Coyne from Hobart Animal Hospital
But by some miracle my vet, Lee Coyne had heard about David Lurie and this new shorter treatment - and just two days after talking to David we were on the boat headed for Sydney for stereotactic radiation.” She added. 

Jan says Dr Lurie was realistic and said
the tumour would probably come back but ten months down the track she says Misty still has her appetite and is doing well. 

“She’s got such a beautiful little spirit and still has that sparkle in her eyes. I wouldn’t have dreamed that she could still be alive and still be as good as she is – it’s a miracle with thanks to David Lurie” Jan said. 

‘Milo’ is another dog with a new lease on life thanks to some stereotactic radiation ‘magic’. 

The first MRI shows the lesion pressing on Milo’s spine causing immense pain and preventing him from urinating on his own. 

Three treatments later Milo was able to walk and wee freely again with the most recent MRI showing the lesion has gone.

This treatment is also fabulously fast!

What’s equally amazing is that each of the three treatments only takes about 15-20 minutes, with 95% of that time being taken to administer a very light general anaesthetic so that each dog can be re-positioned for each treatment in the special mould taken on the first visit, which ensures the actual 60 second high intensity radiation dose goes precisely where it should and without affecting nearby healthy cells.

Does it hurt the dog? 
 “Not at all,” says Dr Lurie, “It’s like having an x-ray taken, the dog doesn’t feel a thing and because we only use ‘twilight sedation’ they wake up quickly and are usually relatively alert within 5-10 minutes and certainly by the time they go home they’re back to their normal self.” he said. 
Side effects, if any are minimal, depending on the part of the body being treated, with things like minor hair loss, superficial skin erosion as if you’d skinned your knee, or if in the mouth a day or two of discomfort similar to that if your coffee was too hot. 

“I think it’s really important people learn what is now available as there can be negative connotations based on a family member’s cancer therapy experience whereas our protocols for treating pets with cancer are much less intrusive than in humans. While we strive for longevity our end game is to ensure quality of life.” said Dr Lurie.

In the past, tumours and cancers in certain parts of the body which couldn’t be surgically removed with sufficiently wide margins or treated with chemo inevitably meant a steady decline resulting in death, but now there’s proof stereotactic radiation therapy can offer new hope for dogs affected by the following types of common cancers:

Head and neck tumours, nasal and intranasal tumours, oral tumours, brain tumours, tonsil and thyroid tumours, spinal cord tumours and cutaneous tumours (skin cancers on legs or the trunk not able to be completely removed surgically).

Dr. David Lurie with his dogs Bean (L) and Ozzy (R)

Sadly, in proof that cancer can strike in any family, one of Dr Lurie’s own dogs, 13 year old Ozzy who he brought with him from the United States has cancer. 

Hemangiosarcoma which was discovered after a pre-dental blood test showed she was anaemic so a worried Dr Lurie did an ultrasound and found a mass in her spleen. 

“It’s a common cancer and a highly metastastic one (spreads)” says Dr Lurie. “We removed the spleen and the biopsy confirmed Hemangiosarcoma so she went through a series of chemotherapy and seven months out Ozzy was doing well until recently, when we discovered a new mass, in her liver.” He said.

“That’s the typical course of the disease that it will spread to other organs but she’s comfortable right now and eating and, well we’re nursing her along as she needs – it’s that quality-of-life again.”

So what do owners who used this new therapy say?

Would they do it again? Absolutely. Both Monica and Jan agree cancer can be defeated - sometimes for good, sometimes only temporarily - but their message to pet owners is the same see your own vet at the first sign of anything suspicious and if need be get a referral to an oncologist… as the earlier any cancer is detected the better the outcome.

Of course not all tumours are cancerous and your dog could simply have one of these common lumps and bumps but getting them checked early is essential.

Written by Kaye BrowneMarch 2018 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved)

About our writer

Kaye Browne
is a Sydney-based journalist and story-teller who discovered more than a decade ago that her real passion in life is discovering new ways to make complicated ‘veterinary info’ both fun AND educational for pet parents.

The former TV and radio News & Current Affairs Presenter shares her life with her latest rescue pooch ‘Chica’, two very spoilt Bantam chooks who no longer lay eggs and her VETtalk TV co-producer and husband Brian Pickering.

You’ll find loads of free bite-sized videos and podcasts about all kinds of dog behaviour and health issues – and how to handle them - on their website and Facebook page.

About The Animal Referral Hospital

The Animal Referral Hospital provides 24/7 Emergency and Critical Care services as well as Specialist Veterinary Care at 7 locations across Australia with additional ARH locations to be announced soon.

Each ARH hospital is equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology to ensure the best  pet emergency treatment, after-hours monitoring or specific diagnosis and treatment by a specialist veterinarian. The three ARH hospitals in NSW are located in HomebushBaulkham Hills and Gosford (Central Coast). There are also hospitals in CanberraBrisbane plus two in Victoria: Point Cook and Essendon

So if you have a pet emergency and your usual Vet is closed, phone your nearest ARH for advice.

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