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Measuring Canines and Childhood Cancer


A developing dog therapy study, Canines and Childhood Cancer, involves the fact that the National Cancer Institute annually diagnoses over 13,000 children with childhood cancer. Currently, it is listed as the leading cause of death from disease in childhood. 

Part of this study involves a cute Pomeranian by the name of Swoosh, a 7-year therapy dog accompanied by handler Michelle Thompson, who visits  young children who have been diagnosed with advanced cancer. The three-year clinical trial in pediatric oncology is to determine how dogs can help in the management of these young patients.

canines and childhood cancer
Credit: Vanderbilt University

To put that in perspective, let’s think about two classrooms of children who are diagnosed every day in the United States with cancer. Everyone in both of those classrooms is diagnosed with cancer every day in the United States. So, although we think about 13,000 children diagnosed every year, that may be a little bit hard to even grasp, but think about walking into two classrooms and every child in those classrooms is diagnosed with cancer every day in the United States.”

The latest Vanderbilt University clinical trial on dog therapy-childhood cancer is accompanied by a grant from Thompson, to determine whether therapy dogs actually help young cancer patients. Saliva from the dogs are tested in addition to testing of the children, in order to track the dog-patient relationship.

According to Medical MedScape, “It really promises to be a landmark study,” said John Payne, chair of the board at the American Humane Association, which is running the trial, with funding from the Pfizer Foundation and Zoetis.

The time allotted between the dogs and their patients is 15 minutes for 16 weeks, time enough to see what seems to be positive results growing in the child when they face chemo, shots, blood tests, and so on. The Pomeranian therapy dog , Swoosh, and his handler Michelle Thompson, are involved in the trial which has about 30 dogs and more than 100 children from 5 pediatric hospitals in the United States. Tennessee’ Vanderbilt Hospital has the most patients at this time.

Mary Jo Gilmer, PhD, Director of the Pediatric Palliative Care Research at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing is beginning to see that dog therapy is beginning to become the new drug-free and inexpensive way to help pediatric cancer patients feel better, according to Medical Breakthroughs.

NewsChannel5 reports that, “So we’re looking at his (Bryce’s) heart rate, his blood pressure and how he and his parents respond to questions about stress and anxiety. The long term affects of cancer are what we’re trying to impact,” explains Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s Mary Jo Gilmer.

A pediatric palliative care team is usually called in, which includes palliative care specialists and other health care professionals with different areas of expertise — such as animal-assisted therapy. This becomes the health-care team, the medical team, and affords the families an extra layer of support when things get tough.

Country star/animal advocate Naomi Judd, researchers, and families of the cancerous children, are approaching Congress to benefit the study, as a breakthrough research study as a promising, underutilized weapon in the war against childhood cancer.

canines and childhood cancer
Credit: Vanderbilt University
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