Veterinarians Partner with Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness

Veterinarians Partner with Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness

Dr. Roger Mahr, then president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and Dr. Ronald Davis, late president of the American Medical Association, launched the One Health Initiative in 2007. “We formalized and expanded upon what many in the medical field have understood for many years," says Mahr, now CEO of the One Health Commission at Iowa State University, Ames. "One Health is the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines and entities working locally, nationally and globally to obtain optimal health for people, animals, plants and everything in the environment and to address critical health issues."

One example is what veterinarians have known for years: Pets are nearly as effective as a pregnancy test kit. A cat may lie and purr on a woman's belly, and a dog might persistently sniff in the same spot, trying to alert its owner that something is different. Scientists have also confirmed that dogs can detect several types of cancer.

The One Health Commission understands the power of the human-animal bond. Today, the commission, which includes participants from around the globe, has paired up with Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness (OCSA), a Chicago non-profit launched in 2010 to educate the public about a form of cancer that doesn't get much press.

Vallie Szymanski, executive director and co-founder of OCSA, explains that 22,000 women die in the U.S. annually from ovarian cancer. Most are diagnosed in stages three or four of the disease when survival rates fall to well under 50 percent. However, when diagnosed at stages one or two, 90 percent survive.

In 2009, Chicago restaurant manager Susan Roman's dog, Bacchus, persistently began to lie on her stomach, prompting her to visit her doctor, where she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Roman fought valiantly, but the diagnosis came too late. Susan, who was in great condition, mistook the generalized symptoms for pain from her workouts.

Before her death, Roman co-founded OCSA with her husband, Rick, a Chicago restaurateur, and Symanski. "Susan was passionate about getting the word out, and about pets," Szymanski says. So came about what some might consider the unlikely pairing of OSCA with the One Health Commission and veterinary medicine in 2012.

The cooperative effort is "about the human/animal bond and the relationship many clients maintain with their veterinarian," says Mahr. "People tell us all sorts of things about their own health. The veterinary profession has never had this type of collaborative pairing, but it makes sense. My oath was, 'I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society.'"

Mahr rattles off several examples of comparative medicine -- the human and veterinary medical communities working together, hand in paw. In recent years, hyperthyroid disease in cats has been on the rise. Part of the reason for this illness in older cats is simply that cats are living longer, but it also appears that a fire retardant (called polybrominated diphenyl ethers) found on furniture is linked to hyperthyroid disease in cats. Studies are now underway to better understand this link and learn if the retardant impacts people, as well.

Bone cancer is common in some larger breed and older dogs, and a similar bone cancer also occurs in children. Today a drug first used to helped dogs is now extending children's lives.

Another example of how veterinarians can play a unique role in human and animal welfare involves animal abuse. It turns out that where there's abuse of an animal in the home, it's very likely that a child or woman is also being abused. Increasingly, there are laws which mandate cross reporting. When a veterinarian reports abuse, the state department of children and family services is instantly alerted.

Mahr says the One Health Commission is also concerned about safety in food production (for human and pet foods) and emerging diseases. Mahr says 75 percent of all emerging diseases, from HIV to West Nile Encephalitis, begin in animals.

"Veterinarians have historically worked with the human medical community to figure these things out. The more various disciplines share information, especially early on, the better," he notes.

"I'm heartened that OCSA came to veterinarians, and is now a part of the One Health Commission," Mahr adds. Other commission members include the American Public Health Association, the Infectious Disease Society of America, the International Food Information Foundation, the associations of veterinary and also medical colleges and many others.

Szymanski points out that pets can be helpful in human healing; she's seen this time and time again among patients in treatment for ovarian cancer.

Organized veterinary medicine is now embarking on a campaign to encourage regular preventive care visits to also detect disease in our pets early. "Early detection is the secret for surviving ovarian cancer, the doctors asking the right question and women educated to the primary symptoms (weight gain, bloating, increase urination frequency and pelvic discomfort)," Szymanski says.

Information about detection of ovarian cancer is or will be available soon at many veterinary clinics.

Listen HERE to a podcast for pets (a petcast) with Dr. Mahr and Szymanski about the One Health Commission and OCSA.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services

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