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Golden Retrievers and Cancer

A study by Purdue University found that 61.4% of Golden Retrievers died of cancer. Of those with cancer, 16% were diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, 11% with lymphoma, 10% with mast cell tumor, and 5% with osteosarcoma. The average age for development of cancer was 8 to 10 years of age.  

Unfortunately there are a lot of suspicions regarding cancer in Golden Retrievers, but not a lot of concrete answers. Due to the high incidence of cancer in Goldens, there are many research projects underway. One recent study confirmed that Golden Retrievers with lymphoma have higher levels ofDNAdamage than healthy Golden Retrievers or healthy mixed-breed dogs. These results suggest that inherited deficiencies in the ability to repairDNAmay contribute to the development of lymphoma in Golden Retrievers. The information gained from this study may help scientists develop prevention strategies for canine cancer. 

Another study found that early neutering increases the risk of certain cancers, in particular lymphosarcoma. However, this same study found that hemangiosarcoma cases were increased in late-neutered females as compared to intact and early neutered females. Therefore, the choice of if-and-when to spay and neuter is no longer straight forward. The days of automatically spaying and neutering dogs at six months of age are gone.  We now must take into consideration a number of factors when deciding on an age. In the majority of females, it is still wisest to spay prior to the first heat as in females the most common cancer is mammary cancer. In males, it seems better to wait until at least 12-18 months of age.  

There are many research projects underway, including a Golden Retriever Lifetime Study being sponsored by Morris Animal Foundation. The goal of this study is to identify genetic, environmental, and nutritional risk factors for the development of cancer. Approximately 3,000 Golden Retrievers, up to two years of age, will be enrolled and followed for 10 to 14 years. In addition to identifying incidence and risk factors for specific cancers, information on other diseases will also be captured. This study will cost approximately $25 million. 

What can Golden Retriever owners do about this high incidence of cancer? 

  1. Remember and watch for the Top Ten Warning Signs of Cancer:  abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow, sores that do not heal, weight loss, loss of appetite, bleeding or discharge from any body opening, offensive odor, difficulty eating or swallowing, hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina, persistent lameness or stiffness, and difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating. Not all dogs with these symptoms will have cancer, but these symptoms should be investigated further.
  2. Make sure your Golden receives regular check-ups including radiographs and blood work if possible. Early detection may increase the survival rate of certain cancers. However, remember that the early detection tests currently on the market do not seem to be worthwhile. 
  3. Contribute to research either financially or by providing information or blood and tumor samples to ongoing research studies. There are many groups such as the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium that collect samples. In Ontario, donations may be made to the Smiling Blue Skies Cancer Fund at the University of Guelph. This fund is in honor of Blues Man, a Golden Retriever who lost his life to cancer. 

If your Golden has cancer, remember that just like in humans, there are ongoing clinical trials. These clinical trials are not for everyone; however, in many cases the patients enrolled benefit while also benefiting research into cancer treatments. 

Written by Dr. Patty Lechten DVM