New method for cancer prognosis could extend life in cats

Massey University Professor John Munday is investigating if immunohistochemistry, a method found to be successful in human oncology, can help predict the prognosis of cats with an aggressive cancer found in the mouth.

Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are a relatively common form of cancer found in cats. It isn’t known what causes SCCs and for most animals the prognosis is not good with a median survival time of around forty days. Although the majority of cats affected die within the first few months after diagnosis, up to 10 per cent survive for at least one year. John says that if these animals could be identified early on, they’d have an even greater chance of survival with the benefit of effective clinical veterinary management.

He decided that immunohistochemistry, which broadly speaking involves a branch of chemistry that looks at the molecular mechanisms underlying the function of the immune system, could help achieve this goal.

“I looked a couple of immunochemistry markers, which are prognosis predictors in humans,” says John.

Immunochemistry markers are antibodies used to identify specific proteins in tumour tissue.

“A marker called p16 is one of the best predictors of prognosis for human oral SCCs. Another marker, p53, has also showed promise in predicting prognosis in some human studies. My study looked at these two markers to see if we could use immunochemistry to predict the behaviour of a feline oral SCC.”

John found that identifying the p16 marker, through a process called immunostaining, which uses a reagent to stain the tissue, was effective in predicting the behaviour of oral SCCs in cats. Animals that were found to have the p16 marker survived on average for 87 days, much longer than cats without it.

“I hope this research in identifying cancers with a more favourable prognosis will allow clinicians to focus on treatments for these cats, which should help to improve survival times for these animals,” says John.

John’s research was published in June 2019 edition of The Veterinary Journal.