Then in 1973, President Nixon declared “war on cancer,” and a year later First Lady Betty Ford announced publicly that she had breast cancer. Those two events were pivotal in changing public attitudes toward cancer. For perhaps the first time, talk of cancer became acceptable, and the veil of shame was lifted. Those acts of breaking the silence helped to transform the fear of cancer into action, and represented the beginning of over thirty years of incredible progress against cancer in people.
But when I talk with Golden Retriever breeders about cancer in Goldens, sometimes I get the feeling that we have not quite broken the silence about cancer in dogs. Some breeders and owners still consider it a private matter, and we have not yet fully turned the fear into action against this disease in our breed. But I think we are on the brink of making that leap, and I hope this column will help to bring this disease into the light of day, and to dispel the shame, secrecy, and finger pointing that serves only to impede progress.
But even though our cancer rate is nearly double the all-breed average, it’s important to keep in mind that the average lifespan of the Golden Retriever breed is still within the same 10-11 year range as all breeds. Our two most common cancers are hemangiosarcoma, affecting about one in five Goldens; and lymphoma, affecting about one in eight Golden Retriever. These two cancers represent about half of all the cancers in the breed.
|Golden Retriever Puppies|
This little girl playing tug-of-war (the one on the left is the Golden Retriever) might be the one that gets lymphoma. Each one of these puppies on the diagonal is pretty awesome nice short back and hocks on the upper left; look at that face and bone in the middle; and this little guy on the lower right is bold and sassy but with a cancer rate of 60%, all three would be lost to cancer in an average Golden litter. Know why we need to talk about this. This is our current reality. But the future is not written in stone, and all of these puppies are still happy and healthy. We every one of us have the potential to contribute toward progress against these diseases so that this very empty picture with only four puppies remaining might not happen. Actually, before we leave these photos, I want to point out one side note.
|British Golden Retriever B&W|
Another way that hemangiosarcoma can be confusing is that frequently the only symptoms are sudden collapse and death, and sometimes there is an assumption that the cause was heart attack or stroke. However, since heart attack and stroke are rare in Golden Retriever, and hemangiosarcoma is the most common cause of death, a better “guess” in those circumstances is hemangiosarcoma. But again, without a post mortem, there is no way to be certain. Fortunately, in the near future the diagnostic challenge this disease sometimes presents is going to change, because one of the researchers supported by GRCA and GRF has recently developed a blood test to diagnose hemangiosarcoma, and this should be available to your vets soon. This is an important and welcome advance, and many Golden Retriever will be spared having to undergo a surgical procedure to diagnose this disease.