By Stephanie Berzinski
"Science is discovering that man's best friend has more in common with us than initially thought, especially when it comes to diseases like cancer.
Canine lymphoma is one of the most common cancers found in dogs, and one local dog-owner is doing everything she can to save her Labrador's life, including trying a brand new vaccine.
"It was the beginning of March and he was just drinking an excessive amount of water each time he went to the water bowl," Tamara McCarthy, local dog owner said.
An X-ray confirmed McCarthy's worst fears. Her beloved 8-year-old Labrador, Riley, had lymphoma. A peach-sized tumor sat directly in front of his heart.
"It was just a complete nightmare. It was just you know, one day he's fine the next he has cancer. It was just unbelievable. I couldn't believe it," McCarthy said.
If left untreated, lymphoma can kill a canine within 4 to 8 weeks. McCarthy immediately started getting Riley treatments including chemotherapy. It helped to shrink the mass, but not destroy it. That's when Dr. Jorg Bucheler, Riley's veterinary specialist, recommended a radical immunotherapy treatment.
"It has conditional approval right now. It is a very, very new treatment. It just came on the market a few months ago," said Bucheler, director at the Veterinary Specialist Hospital of Palm Beach Gardens.
WPBF 25 news cameras were rolling when Riley received his first round of the new canine lymphoma vaccine made by the drug company Merial.
The vaccine contains genetic material called CD-20 proteins, which are absorbed by the body's lymph cells. Eventually the body recognizes those proteins as foreign material and kicks the immune system into overdrive, fighting the proteins attached to the lymphoma cancer cells.
"The hope for Riley is that by boosting the immune system we can employ the body's own resources to destroy the cancer," Bucheler explained.
It's a technique similarly used in humans and it turns out human medicine and veterinary medicine often overlap. Some experts say dogs get 97 percent of all diseases that can affect people.
"I'm hoping that he can surpass it and live a long and healthy life," McCarthy said.
Studies show the canine Lymphoma Vaccine may help dogs like Riley live another two years, which doesn't seem long, until you think of it this way.
"That's about 20 percent of the (dog's) regular life span, which is approximately 15 years in people years," Dr. Bucheler said.
And in dog time that means a lot more love to give to his human companion.
"I would do anything to help my dog," McCarthy said.
Riley has three more immunotherapy injections until his treatment is complete. It is expensive, about $3,200 for all four injections.
Currently, only veterinary specialists like Bucheler can provide such immunotherapy treatment."
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