Two years with Sophie

Two years with Sophie

Veterinary oncologists break ground with urethral cancer treatment

By Sarah Carey

Sophie and Amy Beaver/Photo courtesy of Amy Beaver

When Sgt. Troy Fergueson of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and his wife, Laura, held a memorial service in Hudson, Fla., for their beloved dog, a yellow Labrador named Sophie, more than 100 people paid their respects. Among them were law enforcement officers, friends, and UF veterinary surgical oncologist Nick Bacon and veterinary technician Amy Beaver.

The Ferguesons believe UF veterinarians gave them two-and-a-half more years with Sophie, who was diagnosed in May 2008 with urethral cancer. The dog was celebrated at the service for her contributions to law enforcement and to the people she touched as part of her search and rescue work.

“Without treatment, she would have lived maybe a month or two,” Fergueson said. “Sophie was even able to continue her search work until four months ago.”

In conjunction with Frank Bova, Ph.D., a professor of neurosurgery with UF’s McKnight Brain Institute, UF veterinary oncologists treated Sophie with stereotactic radiosurgery, a new procedure for veterinary medicine that involves sophisticated image guidance and targeted, high-dose radiation. This is administered through the use of the LINAC Scalpel, a stereotactic linear accelerator invented at UF that has long been used to treat human cancer patients. UF was only the second veterinary hospital in the country to use the technique.

Since then, UF veterinarians have performed nine urethral and three prostate cancer procedures in dogs. Bacon presented the team’s findings to the Veterinary Cancer Society in March and at the American College of Veterinary Surgeons meeting in October.

The urethra is a tube exiting the bladder through which urine can leave the body.

“Any tumor, even an early one, can cause complete obstruction,” Bacon said.

In cases of urethral cancer, dogs can be acting entirely normally — playing, eating, running, barking — but they are unable to urinate, Bacon said.

“It affects dogs with almost no warning, and any dog can be affected. These dogs are typically euthanized after days to weeks. Four of the nine urethral cancer dogs we treated lived longer than six months, and two lived longer than one year. With the advanced imaging, advanced radiation and advanced surgery we offer, we are really furthering the boundaries of what is treatable in canine cancer.”

The addition of a linear accelerator to UF’s Small Animal Hospital, which opened in November, means that stereotactic radiosurgery can now be performed in a veterinary setting instead of the McKnight Brain Institute, although collaborations with faculty and staff there will continue, Bacon said.