Advances in cancer screening and detection

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Rachel Venable, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology) presented oncology updates to general practitioners at Fetch Nashville

Canine blood test

Photo: Alberto/Adobe Stock

As new therapies and products come to market and medical care advances, choosing which to use tool or method can become overwhelming. To provide education and insight about new oncology care options, Rachel Venable, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology), founder of Pet Cancer Care Consulting in Scottsdale, Arizona, discussed what general practitioners need to know, during the 2024 Fetch dvm360 Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.1

An estimated 1 in 4 dogs will develop cancer at some point in their lives, and it is the leading cause of death for canines who are older than middle age, according to the Veterinary Cancer Society.2 Approximately 6 million new cancer diagnoses are made in dogs in the US each year.3

“Pet owners will often do lots of their own research especially when the diagnosis is cancer. They will often come to their veterinarian with all kinds of questions about new products and therapies they found online. As the veterinarian, it can be a challenge to know what technologies and therapies are proven and good options for these pet owners,” Venable said.1

Venable’s talk covered various emerging technologies and therapies in veterinary oncology with one of the main focuses being cancer screening and detection. The lecture included discussions of several screening and detection products that have recently become available to veterinary teams. Among the innovative tools presented during the lecture are the following products1:

Nu.Q

The Nu.Q blood test was developed by epigenetics company Volition for veterinary cancer screening. It works by measuring the level of nucleosomes—“a collection of DNA wrapped around a histone core with multiple histones forming the chromosome”—in the blood, according to Venable.1

In studies with canine patients, the Nu.Q test has found higher levels of nucleosomes in the bloodstream, which is associated with a presence of cancer. In a study of 500 dogs with cancer, the test detection rate was 77% for lymphoma and 81% for hemangiosarcoma.1 

“What this test picks up the most is lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma,” said Venable. However, the Nu.Q test is less sensitive to other types of cancers, such as mast cell tumors and soft tissue sarcoma, and Venable suggested it may not always be the right tool.

“If you have a dog that has a lump and you’re wondering if it’s cancer, just do your normal testing. Ask for a biopsy and whatever you would typically do because those real solid combined tumors don’t seem to be shedding as many nucleosomes in the blood, vs cancers like a major sarcoma that is already involved in the blood.”

Recommended for screening in healthy dogs older than 7 years, Nu.Q has the benefit of being a simple blood test that is “fairly inexpensive” and can return results in about 10 minutes or less, according to Venable. The test was made available to the US veterinary market in January 2023 through the IDEXX reference laboratory network, in partnership with Volition.3 It more recently became available to veterinarians in the US through the veterinary diagnostics company Antech.4

Oncotect

Venable discussed 2 urine tests for cancer detection, starting with Oncotect, which relies on nematodes for disease detection. The Oncotect test is recommended for screening older dogs for cancer and can be done during a veterinary visit or at home with a test kit ordered online by pet owners.1,5 “They just need a small amount of urine. It’s pretty simple,” said Venable.

Oncotect test results are returned within 7 days, along with a clear risk assessment of melanoma, lymphoma, mast cell tumor and hemangiosarcoma for the pet. Guidance for appropriate next steps is also provided and based on the test results.5

Venable said the sensitivity of the test is “pretty decent.” She cited a study that found an 85% sensitivity for detecting melanoma, lymphoma, mast cell tumor and hemangiosarcoma. “Similar to Nu.Q, this test can tell you if cancer is detected but not the type of cancer,” she added.1

The Oncotect test, developed by a startup of the same name, was made available on the market in October 2023. The test kit is priced under $200, according to the company.5

CADET BRAF

The second urine test Venable covered was Antech's CADET BRAF for canines. This test detects the presence of cells that contain the BRAF a mutation, which is associated with canine bladder and prostate cancers, in urine.6 “Urinary carcinoma often carries a BRAF mutation,” said Venable.

According to Venable, CADET BRAF is not a screening test but rather a tool that aids in diagnosing cancer in dogs with a urinary bladder mass.1 For example, Antech indicates clinical cases that present with hematuria, and/or urinary incontinence with diagnostic imaging of a bladder mass as one criteria for using CADET BRAF.6

The test requires a generous amount of urine, Venable said, but a benefit to the veterinary team is that it can be collected over a few days by the pet’s owner. “The other nice thing is [the test] is not affected by blood or protein or bacteria, because a lot of these bladder tumors have infections. Some earlier tests that were trying to look at this were really affected by urinary tract infection,” said Venable

Takeaways

Venable reminded Fetch attendees that it is important to be aware of new technology, tests and treatments that can help elevate the standard of clinical medicine being practiced. “I think it’s about knowing what’s out there and when to appropriately use it,” she added.

References

  1. Venable R. Recent advances in veterinary oncology: updates every general practitioner should know. Presented at: Fetch dvm360 Conference; Nashville, Tennessee. May 17-19, 2024.
  2. Nu.Q vet cancer test now available through IDEXX’s reference laboratory network. dvm360. January 12, 2023. Accessed May 17, 2024. https://www.dvm360.com/view/nu-q-vet-cancer-test-now-available-through-idexx-s-reference-laboratory-network
  3. Pet owner resources; Frequently asked questions. Veterinary Cancer Society. 2023. Accessed May 17, 2023. http://vetcancersociety.org/pet-owners/faqs
  4. Cancer test launches within US and European veterinary clinics. dvm360. April 23, 2024. Accessed May 17, 2024. https://www.dvm360.com/view/cancer-test-launches-within-us-and-european-veterinary-clinics
  5. Oncotect, the startup using worms to detect cancer in dogs, launches the first-ever early cancer screening kit available online for pet owners. News release. October 2, 2023.
  6. The power of molecular diagnostics. Antech. 2024. Accessed May 17, 2024. https://www.antechdiagnostics.com/cadet-braf-plus/
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