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Cancer Radiation Treatment:
Not Just for Humans Anymore

PercyWith his pointed ears and habit of purring, Percy doesn’t resemble 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 animal patients are helped through the innovative veterinary oncology program at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Veterinarians with specialty training in oncology see these cats, dogs, and horses. As our animals live longer, they are increasingly being affected by maladies traditionally associated with old age, including cancer. In fact, many types of cancers afflict animals as well as people.

The MU program routinely works in cooperation with human medicine oncologists to find effective treatments for numerous species. Veterinarians at MU use similar techniques of human medicine, including the newest advances in chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

"MU 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 Dr. 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."

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.

Cats can develop several cancers, including squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma, breast cancer, and lung cancer. The demand for veterinary oncologists has increased as more and more people consider pets as members of their families and seek advanced treatment.

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 won the heart of Brad Belk, the director at the Joplin Museum Complex in Joplin, Mo. (, who found the cat abandoned in 2000. Mr. Belk decided to keep the kitten as an official museum greeter.

In the last seven years, Percy has welcomed more than 100,000 museum visitors, received fan letters from people all over the world, and survived a well-publicized kidnapping. He has become a local celebrity. 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.

Percy handled the treatments well, showing no signs of side effects from his time in the teaching hospital’s linear accelerator. Percy was released from the hospital and is doing well, Dr. Henry said, and back to his museum job and fans in Joplin.

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College of Veterinary Medicine
W-203 Veterinary Medicine Building
Columbia, MO 65211
Phone: (573) 882-3554
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Last Update: February 29, 2012