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Cancer Radiation Treatment: Not Just for Humans Anymore

March 15, 2007

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — With blue-gray fur and a habit of purring, Percy isn't your typical cancer patient, but at the University of Missouri-Columbia's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, even Russian Blue cats can undergo radiation treatment.

Each year, more than 1,200 appointments are scheduled through the innovative veterinary oncology program at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine for animals suffering from cancer. The animals are seen by veterinarians with specialty training in oncology. The program works in a cooperative effort with human medicine oncologists to find effective treatments for both people and animals. Veterinarians at MU use similar techniques of human medicine, including the newest advances in chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. MU has four board-certified veterinary oncologists on staff, as well as a board-certified radiation therapist, three medical oncology and one radiation oncology resident, and one oncology intern.

"The University of Missouri-Columbia is unique in that it is home to a veterinary teaching hospital, a medical school and cancer center, a research reactor and a life sciences research center, all located on the same physical campus," said Carolyn Henry, associate professor and director of the Scott Endowed Program in Veterinary Oncology. "This gives us an unparalleled opportunity to create a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and researchers devoted to discovering improved diagnostic and therapeutic options for all cancer patients."

Cats can develop several cancers, including squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma, breast and lung cancer. The demand for veterinary oncologists has increased as more and more people consider pets as members of their families. In addition, the MU group has developed an oncology clinical trials service for enrollment of animal cancer patients in trials evaluating new cutting-edge therapies. As evidence of their success in this area, the MU oncology program was chosen as one of only 13 sites comprising the National Cancer Institute's Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium. The first trial studying a novel cancer treatment in dogs is underway, with MU serving as one of only four trial sites in the nation.

Percy, perhaps the most famous pet-patient at the hospital, won the heart of Brad Belk, the director at the Joplin Museum Complex in Joplin, Mo., who found the cat abandoned in 2000. Belk decided to keep the cat as an official museum greeter. In the last seven years, Percy has greeted more than 100,000 museum visitors, received fan letters from people all over the world and survived a well-publicized kidnapping. Some of his famous fans include the governor of Missouri; Brad Pitt's mother, who wanted one of his offspring to give to Jennifer Aniston; and artist Harriet Cremeen, who completed an oil painting of the cat three years ago.

MU veterinary oncologists were determined not to let cancerous lesions from Percy's abdomen and left hind leg end his star status. Percy was brought to the veterinary teaching hospital after three previous surgeries did not completely remove his tumors. To combat his aggressive form of fibrosarcoma, the cat had four weeks of radiation therapy by one of the few linear accelerators dedicated to veterinary use. During his stay at the hospital, Percy received 20 doses of radiation to his tumor site.

Unlike some of the human patients, Percy shows no signs of side effects from his treatment. Percy was released from the hospital and is doing well, Henry said.