Osteosarcoma is the most common primary bone cancer in dogs, accounting for up to 85% of malignancies originating in the bones.
The estimated osteosarcoma incidence is 13.9/100,000 in dogs. In US around 8000 dogs are affected by it every year.
It mainly occurs in large and giant breeds such as: Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, Irish Setter etc.
What is osteosarcoma?
Osteosarcoma occurs mostly as a primary tumor but can also occur as a secondary tumor (originating from pre-existing cancer).
The bone comprises of a number of cells: osteoblasts, osteoclasts, chondrocytes etc and each have their specialized function. Osteosarcoma tumors are of cartilaginous origin (cartilage is the soft bone present at the ears and nose tip) and based on the population of bone cell types they are classified as osteoblastic, chondroblastic and fibroblastic.
Osteoblasts are the bone cells which produce osteoid. Osteoid is the collagen like part of the bone that binds the bone mineral. Malignant bone cells produce osteoid but lay it down in irregular patterns and these irregular patterns lead to abnormal growth of bone tissue and subsequent tumor formation.
Osteosarcoma can metastasize to other sites as the cancerous cells travel via blood.
Initially dogs with osteosarcoma present with symptoms of lameness and swelling at site. With time, the tumor presents as a soft tissue swelling and even as a fracture at the affected site. It is characterized with immense pain.
Risk factors for developing osteosarcoma include:
- Large and giant breeds
- Gender: Male are likely to develop osteosarcoma than females
- Age: Osteosarcoma affects middle aged to older dogs after the bones are completely developed.
- Bone infarcts (death of cellular elements in the bone)
- Increased weight
What is the treatment offered for canine osteosarcoma?
The treatment offered for canine osteosarcoma includes :
- Chemotherapy or combination chemotherapy: Doxorubicin, cisplastin and other platinum based chemotherapy
- Radiation therapy for bone pain
- Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or other painkillers to reduce pain and swelling
- Surgery or amputation of affected limb
Just like any other treatment, these therapies do pose some side effects.
Is there any similarity between human osteosarcoma and canine osteosarcoma?
Yes there are few similarities between human and canine osteosarcoma. Fenger et al state that osteosarcoma is the most common form of bone cancer occurring in children and dogs; its prevalence rate is 10 times higher in dogs than children.
Osteosarcoma occurs mostly in the appendicular skeleton in both dogs and humans. Certain causative factors are also similar; radiation exposure and bone infarcts predispose both species to osteosarcoma. At molecular level, both these diseases are very similar.
Dog models of cancer are thought to be extremely useful for developing new treatments because of their genetic similarity with humans and as pets they share the same environment and are exposed to same risk factors.
These similarities suggest that treatments developed for humans, if assessed for toxicity profile can be used for treating canine osteoarthritis.
How can turmeric help in osteosarcoma?
Since we already know about turmeric’s efficacy against cancer, it is quite obvious that it would help in osteosarcoma. Combining all its pharmacological properties there are about 7 ways by which turmeric and its bioactive ingredient, curcumin could benefit in canine osteosarcoma.
1.Curcumin inhibits growth of osteosarcoma cells
Curcumin’s anti-cancer activity has been proven by lab studies and clinical trials against many cancers. Its anti-cancer activity has also been studied in relation to osteosarcoma.
Fossey et al. conducted a study wherein canine as well as human osteosarcoma cells were treated with a compound derived from curcumin. STAT3 is a transcription factor- a biological molecule that produces STAT3 gene which is involved in cell growth and cell death.
It was observed that the compound reduced the activity of STAT3, reduced proliferation of the cells and caused cell death. It also downregulated the activity of survivin (a protein that prevents cell death) , vascular endothelial growth factor (a biological molecule vital for blood supply) etc. thereby suggesting that it can also prevent metastases of osteosarcoma cells.
This is the only study that shows that curcumin and its related compounds are effective against canine osteosarcoma cells.
Yang et al state that curcumin and its derivatives are potential anti-osteosarcoma drugs as they activate caspases-enzymes that bring about cell death of cancerous cells. This effect has been confirmed by other studies too.
What does this mean?
Curcumin exhibits specific anti-cancer activity against osteosarcoma cells by regulating multiple targets and biochemical pathways. This makes it more potent than other chemotherapeutic drugs, since it is free from side effects.
2.It prevents metastases or spread of cancer
Apart from preventing cancer cells from proliferating, curcumin also prevents cancer cells from metastasizing to other parts of the body. It has multiple ways of preventing metastases- inhibiting growth of tumor, cutting of blood supply to tumor, causing cell death in cancerous cells etc.
MicroRNAs are certain elements which up regulates genes and proteins in our body and are involved in cell proliferation, cell death and tumor formation. Therefore they are considered as therapeutic targets in cancer.
Curcumin is found to reduce the activity of these microRNAs as well as other biological targets which control cell death and proliferation in osteosarcoma cells. By virtue of these mechanisms, curcumin prevents proliferative and invasive ability of osteosarcoma cells.
Wnt/β-catenin signalling is a pathway that is involved in tumor development and controls cancerous cell proliferation and growth. Mutated versions of proteins involved in this pathway are overexpressed in osteosarcoma cells.
Curcumin treatment was found to inhibit the activity of this pathway and also arrested the cell growth thereby preventing proliferation and invasion of osteosarcoma cells.
Another treatment by which curcumin attenuates metastatic potential of osteosarcoma cells is by inhibiting Notch-1 signalling pathway. Notch signalling is involved in proliferation of cancerous cells and regulates blood supply to tumors.
What does this mean?
Curcumin inhibits osteosarcoma cells from metastasizing to other parts of the body. This is of great importance since 80% of the dogs who die due to osteosarcoma also develop lung cancer.
3. Turmeric can help reduce pain occurring in osteosarcoma
There are two types of bone cancer pain:
- Ongoing pain- constant dull aching pain with increasing intensity as tumor grows
- Breakthrough pain- intermittent episodes of severe pain
This pain arises due to sensitization of nerve cells, increased pressure on the bone, microfractures and compression of nerves. Radiation therapy helps in reducing this pain by directly targeting the tumor cells and inflammatory cells.
Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce pain by targeting COX-2 enzyme which plays a major role in the inflammatory process.
Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and it helps in reducing pain and inflammation by:
- Inhibiting the activity of inflammatory enzymes like COX, LOX etc.
- Inhibiting the activity of the master protein of inflammatory process-Nuclear factor kappaB
- Preventing migration of immune cells to injured site
- Reducing the production of inflammatory hormones like prostaglandins
- Increasing the activity of anti-inflammatory agents in the body
Another added advantage is that curcumin does not cause any side effects like regular painkillers. Few studies have been conducted demonstrating turmeric’s ability in helping dogs suffering from arthritic pain.
A study was conducted wherein the effect of curcumin was compared with that of non steroidal anti-inflammatory agents in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. The expression of genes involved in inflammation was significantly lowered in curcumin group compared to NSAIDs group.
Apart from that curcumin manipulated a number of biochemical pathways to reduce pain unlike NSAIDs and also reduced immune cells from migrating to the site of inflammation. Researchers concluded that curcumin could be a viable complementary anti-inflammatory agent in arthritis pain.
What does this mean?
Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and can help in reducing pain and swelling in osteosarcoma. Studies focused on canine arthritic pain suggest that curcumin fares better than NSAIDs and does not cause side effect.
4.It increases sensitivity of chemotherapy
Curcumin is a chemosensitizer- it increases sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs and also reverses drug resistance. It regulates the multidrug resistance pathway and has been found to increase sensitivity of cancer cells to a number of chemotherapeutic drugs some of which are used to treat osteosarcoma.
Wang et al have shown that curcumin enhances the effect of chemotherapeutic drug, doxorubicin against osteosarcoma cells.
Cancer cells today have developed drug resistance; not only to individual drugs but to multiple drugs which makes their treatment a challenge. In a cell culture study, multidrug resistant osteosarcoma cells were treated with curcumin and it was observed that curcumin reversed the drug resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs like methotrexate, DDP, adriamycin, ifosfamide etc.
It inhibited the activity of P-glycoprotein, a protein that is involved in drug metabolism and excretes toxic substances from the cell thereby reducing therapeutic efficacy of the drug in this case.
What does this mean?
Curcumin sensitizes the cancerous cells to chemotherapy and increases therapeutic efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs. This can help reduce the medication burden.
5.It protects from side effects of chemo & radiotherapy
Chemotherapy drugs (such as doxorubicin and cisplatin) induce high toxicity on both tumorous and normal tissues, causing significant side effects such as anemia, neutropenia (reduce WBCs), and heart damage, which may decrease the survival rate.
Even radiotherapy can have adverse effects like immune suppression, nausea and vomiting, sloughing off of skin.
Therefore it is necessary to look for anti-cancer agents that are free from such toxic effects or agents that reduce such toxic effects.
Curcumin is used as a cytotoxic agent (toxic to cells) in cancer treatment. But what is unique about curcumin is that it is toxic only to cancer cells and not normal cells , which is the case with some chemotherapeutic agents.
In a lab study, osteosarcoma cells and osteoblasts (type of bone cells) were treated with different concentrations of curcumin. At the cytotoxic concentration of curcumin, it was observed that the cancerous cells had less than 50% viability while healthy bone cells had 80% viability.
This demonstrated that osteosarcoma cells were sensitive to curcumin treatment while healthy bone cells remained viable under the same conditions. It should be noted that this effect is dose dependant.
Goel et al state that curcumin protects normal organs like heart, kidney, oral cavity, liver etc from chemotherapy and radiation induced toxicity by virtue of its antioxidant property. It can also help with cancer associated anorexia.
What does this mean?
Curcumin serves as a chemo and radioprotector and can protect from potential side effects of conventional cancer therapy.
6. It boosts immunity
Poor outcomes with chemotherapy and inability to delay or prevent metastases with conventional drugs have led to development of immunotherapies for canine osteosarcoma treatment. These modulate the immune system in order to support it to fight osteosarcoma metastases.
A number of studies suggest that curcumin is an immunomodulatory agent- it can regulate immune responses. This is of relevance to autoimmune conditions or conditions involving immune system dysfunction.
It can lower the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body and reduce inflammation, pain and swelling. Interestingly at low doses it can increase immunity and this could be of use in cancer treatment where immunity is suppressed due to chemotherapy. Turmeric Milk is thought of as immunity boosting elixir in India and Asian countries.
Turmeric protects most of the biological systems ranging from digestive system to cardiovascular system to nervous system. Its immune regulating property should be studied in relation to osteosarcoma.
What does this mean?
Curcumin has immune regulating functions which could help in boosting immune function to fight osteosarcoma. Further studies are required to investigate whether curcumin can serve as an immunotherapeutic agent in osteosarcoma.
7.It can help in post surgical recovery
If the malignancy is identified at early stages and it is localised then surgery or amputation of the affected limb is advised. In this case turmeric can help in postoperative care by:
- Serving as an alternative to painkillers
- Enhancing wound healing
- Improving immunity and reducing fatigue
- Reducing chances of microbial infection
Curcumin can mildly increase bleeding risk in humans, therefore a general precaution is to avoid turmeric supplements 2 weeks prior to surgery. This is not the case with dietary turmeric, but to avoid any risks you can discontinue turmeric for your pet prior to surgery and restart it once he stabilizes.
What does this mean?
If osteosarcoma is localized then, then affected limb is amputated or the tumor is surgically removed. In this case turmeric can enhance post surgery recovery. It should also be noted that turmeric mildly increases bleeding risk and hence turmeric supplements should be avoided prior to surgery.
There are no guidelines for a specific dose for dogs suffering from osteosarcoma. But you could start with ascertaining a dose depending on your pet’s weight.
Always go for good organic turmeric powder and refrain from giving capsules or pills.
After deciding the amount of turmeric powder and dosage go for the following recipe:
This is for ½ cup turmeric powder. Take ½ cup turmeric powder and 1 cup water in a pan and gently stir over a low flame. This can take 7-10 mins. Adjust the water quantity based on the thickness of the paste.
Add 1 ½ teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper and 70 ml coconut or olive oil. Cook till all ingredients are mixed well.
Based on the table above you can start with small doses (1/4 to ½ teaspoon based upon the dog’s weight) and slowly build the dose based on your pet’s tolerance. 1-2 teaspoon twice a day seems good.
This paste should be fine for 2 weeks when stored in the refrigerator.
In fact you don’t need to make a separate Golden Paste for your pet. You can just use the same one that you make for yourself, and based on the dose suggested for your pet’s body weight you could feed him that amount.
However to make the paste more palatable and less spicy add boiling water to the paste and mix to form gravy like consistency. Let this cool down and then add it to your dog’s food.
You could also add turmeric to your dog’s treats, but baked goods are not likely to reach the therapeutic efficacy that The Golden Paste would.
For more details regarding the dosage please refer to Turmeric Dosage For Dogs-The Definitive Guide.
Always start your dog with small doses to determine if turmeric suits him. Mild gastric side effects are possible but these should subside eventually. If not then please discontinue turmeric.
Turmeric is said to work as a binding agent so please include lots of water in your pet’s food to avoid constipation. Turmeric can mildly increase bleeding risk so avoid it prior to any surgical procedure.
Some pet owners have successfully given black pepper to their pets while some feel that black pepper may irritate stomach lining. If that’s the case you can give your dog turmeric with fats alone because that should take care of the absorption of turmeric.
If your pet is pregnant, turmeric might act as a mild uterine stimulant so it is advisable to avoid turmeric then. However there is no study which proves this.
Consult a vet before starting your pet on turmeric.
Canine osteosarcoma, despite of availability of a number of treatments, has poor clinical outcomes.
Turmeric and especially curcumin should be investigated in relation to canine osteosarcoma since it exerts specific anti-cancer activity to osteosarcoma cells and has a multifaceted role which could be utilised for various aspects of osteosarcoma treatment.
We hope this article is of help to all the pet lovers out there who might be facing this dilemma. In case you have started your pet on turmeric for any other reason or would like to share your pet’s experience with turmeric, then we are waiting to hear from you.