Why do golden retrievers see increased rates of cancer?

Canine Cancer Warning

One of the Miami Valley’s most popular dog breeds — golden retrievers — has en especially high risk of cancer.

News Center 7’s Cheryl McHenry spoke to area experts about what you can do to fight back and protect your pet.

Just 6 years old, Bailey is suffering from a cancerous tumor.

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“[On the] MRI we could see that there was this tumor that was actually arising from a nerve that was going all the way up into the spinal cord,” said Ane Uriarte, a neurosurgeon for the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Bailey is part of a clinical trial at Tufts University that hopes to shrink the tumor and then remove it.

Already, he can walk again and lift his head.

Many golden retrievers, like Bailey, are enrolled in the university's studies.

“Goldens are one of the breeds that we see that get a lot of cancer,” said Cheryl London, research professor in Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s oncology department.

London helps run the university’s veterinary clinical trials program.

She said sadly there’s a genetic flip side to the sweetness bred into golden retrievers.

“For a period of time there was a lot of interbreeding to create the golden retriever and all the other breeds,” London explained.

One canine cause of death study found cancer killed at least half the golden retrievers sampled.

London said the positive attributes bred into the goldens, such as their intelligence and trainability, seem to have come with a propensity to develop four types of cancer — lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma and mast cell tumors.

“The incidence of cancer begins to rise at 6 years of age and peaks at 10 to 12 then starts to fall off,” said London.

But can it be stopped?

“There's no getting around the fact that golden retrievers have cancer in their bloodlines,” said Pauline Hoegler at Golden Opportunities for Everyone, an organization that breeds golden retrievers to be service dogs.

For service dog groups, the importance in selecting retriever parents with longevity and excellent temperament is tempered by the reality that canine cancer screenings are not yet possible.

“I believe in having an open and honest conversation about what you do have,” Hoegler said.

“That is the worst part of dog ownership. Is the end,” said Alysson MacKenna of Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue.

In a world where all dog lovers know our best friends die too young, the hope here is a “too early” end often seen in goldens can soon come to an end.

“Scientific advances have made it much easier to foresee a future where we'll be far better at predicting which patients are going to get cancer and treating them earlier on,” London said.

After recently completing radiation treatment, Bailey’s family said he is doing well.

Veterinarians recommend keeping pets in a normal weight range and to do weekly checks for any new lumps or bumps on your dog starting at age 6.

Golden retriever owners in particular should have a vet evaluate any new growths felt doing those checks.