We are living in extraordinary times.
Whilst most of us are focussing on coping with all the changes caused by the international
coronavirus pandemic in people, Virbac have been launching a brand new pet cancer
The new drug is extracted from the seed of a shrub – Fontainea picrosperma – found in the
rainforest in northern Queensland, Australia.
When it is injected directly into a mast cell tumour (mastocytoma), in a majority of cases it
destroys the tumour in seven days, leaving a small hole which then heals itself, over the
following three weeks.
It is revolutionary and unique.
Its name is Stelfonta. It can only be used on mastocytomas in or just under the skin, that
have not already spread elsewhere into the body. It is for sites where surgery is a poor
choice, such as below the elbow in the front leg or below the hock in the back leg.
It only has to be injected once, and many pets in the trials allowed this without the need for
sedation or anaesthesia.
Until now my usual choice for this very common form of skin cancer in pets is surgery. But
that is not always possible, depending on the anaesthetic risk, and whether there is sufficient
spare skin locally to close up after resecting the tumour.
Vets will only be using it in carefully selected cases.
Not every skin cancer nor every mast cell tumour will be suitable. And pets will still need to
have received a thorough investigation before we can know that their cancer is a
mastocytoma, and that it has not yet spread.
This would usually involve at least a fine needle aspirate, to confirm the type of cancer;
ultrasonic abdominal imaging and testing of the local lymph nodes.
I still have a lot to learn about it, but the trials seem very promising. It makes me feel
incredibly proud to be living in a time when something as horrid as cancer may become
something we can treat with a simple injection.
I wonder what other secrets are waiting to be discovered in the Australian rainforest?