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dr. david haworth of morris animal foundation: understanding cancer



Our fight against cancer is almost always personal. Ironically, the lives of pets have become markedly longer and healthier because of leash laws, routine vaccinations, improved veterinary care and even people’s unwillingness to allow animals to roam the streets.  As a result of these improvements, animal deaths caused by trauma and disease have dramatically declined during the past two decades.


Cancer—sometimes called the “disease of last resort” —has reared its ugly head in their absence. No one has welcomed it.


After I completed my PhD work in the science of hormones (particularly around reproduction), I returned to veterinary school. My plan was to return to that field for a career in traditional academics. At the veterinary teaching hospital, however, I started meeting the cancer survivors, the beautiful dogs and cats undergoing surgery and gamely taking on chemotherapy.  I loved those animals instinctively. 


I also started to see the tumors themselves as our surgeons removed them. And in those tumors, I saw something ugly and evil. It is not very scientific for me to phrase it that way—ugly and evil aren’t terms we scientists often use—but there is no other way to say it. I went back to my PhD advisers and told them I was changing career paths. Somewhat to my surprise, they gave me full support. One of the things I realized then, which has been reinforced throughout my career, is that cancer has no friends. Everyone has had an experience with this disease, and no one is a fan. 


I believe that one measure of a person is the size of the challenges they take on, and while I am not egotistical enough to believe I will beat cancer, I am proud of the time and energy I’ve spent on increasing our understanding and working towards cures for this ugly and evil disease.


Morris Animal Foundation currently is funding more than 30 cancer studies around the world; this financial support is helping scientists investigate every aspect of cancer in animals. We’re also conducting (and funding) the largest study ever run in veterinary medicine. Our Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will fundamentally change the way we understand all canine diseases and help us identify all major risk factors for developing the primary types of cancer we see in dogs.


Understanding is the first key step in beating cancer, and good science is the only way we can really gain understanding. 


We’re going to beat this disease.  I don’t know when, but I know we will.


To take a stand against cancer, visit Morris Animal Foundation’s Unite to Fight Pet Cancer Campaign website. With your support, Morris Animal Foundation can expand the reach and scope of the pet cancer studies that are funded. Please consider joining the movement and Unite to Fight!

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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Visit your vet at least once a year to keep your pet protected from preventable diseases.