An update on diagnosing and treating primary lung tumors - Veterinary Medicine
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An update on diagnosing and treating primary lung tumors
The incidence of this rare cancer in dogs and cats may be on the rise. Find out how to spot a primary lung tumor and what new forms of therapy may soon be at your disposal.



Although complete surgical removal of primary lung tumors before metastasis offers the best hope for a cure, several promising treatment modalities are on the horizon.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy

An alternative to conventional lung lobectomy in companion animals is the use of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). This treatment modality allows the delivery of curative-intent megavoltage radiation to the neoplastic lesion. Excessive delivery of radiation to normal tissues is minimized by collimating multiple treatment beams in the radiation field to conform three-dimensionally to the geometry of the cancerous mass.52

In a case study, the effectiveness of IMRT for treating a primary bronchoalveolar carcinoma in a dog was assessed by using positron emission tomography combined with CT. After treatment with IMRT, the dog survived 22 months, only to be euthanized for clinical signs considered unrelated to the primary lung tumor or treatment with IMRT. This anecdotal case report demonstrates favorable clinical outcomes with combination IMRT and positron emission tomography and CT for the treatment and response-assessment of a primary lung tumor in a dog.52

Radiofrequency ablation

Another promising alternative to surgical removal of primary lung tumors is radiofrequency ablation (RFA). A heating electrode is directly inserted into the tumor percutaneously under the guidance of CT, and alternating electrical currents are passed through the electrode into the neoplastic mass with the intent of inducing tumor cell necrosis.

In a study using animal models, transmissible venereal tumor fragments were injected into the lungs of five dogs, and the patients were subsequently subjected to site-directed RFA. After treatment, the dogs were euthanized, and lung lesions were histologically evaluated. All tumor lesions demonstrated complete thermal coagulative necrosis with no evidence of viable tumor cells. The damage to normal lung parenchyma involved only a narrow zone of hemorrhagic necrosis surrounding each ablated lesion.

The efficacy of RFA on primary pulmonary masses suggests that animals with metastatic pulmonary nodules may also benefit from this treatment modality. Such a supposition is supported by one study in which electrode placement in the epicenter of the cluster of nodules was adequate for complete nodule ablation.53

Localized therapy

The localized delivery of chemotherapeutic agents or cytokines to the thoracic cavity or lung parenchyma may allow for enhanced anticancer effects within the immediate tumor microenvironment.

Intracavitary chemotherapy. The clinical effectiveness of intracavitary cisplatin administration (50 mg/m2) has been investigated in six dogs with malignant cavitary effusions.54 In three dogs with pleural mesothelioma, complete resolution of cancerous effusions was achieved after a maximum of two treatments. These favorable anecdotal findings warrant further exploration of intracavitary chemotherapeutic strategies for managing the clinical consequences associated with primary or metastatic lung tumors.

A more recent study evaluated the effectiveness of intracavitary mitoxantrone or carboplatin for treating thoracic or abdominal carcinomatosis, sarcomatosis, or mesothelioma in patients with and without malignant effusions. In dogs treated with intracavitary chemotherapy, the median survival time was 332 days, compared with only 25 days in untreated dogs.55 These findings derived from a small population of cancer-bearing dogs also suggest that intracavitary chemotherapy exerts some beneficial anticancer effects.

Inhaled chemotherapy. Although intracavitary chemotherapy may increase the concentration of drug within the pleural space and at the visceral surface of the lung, the attainment of higher drug concentrations within the pulmonary parenchyma is better achieved through inhalation therapy. In a recent study, either doxorubicin or paclitaxel was delivered by aerosolization to 28 dogs with either primary or metastatic pulmonary neoplasia.56 Tumor regression occurred in 25% of dogs treated, with one patient demonstrating partial regression of metastatic hilar lymphadenopathy. Although typical toxicities of systemic doxorubicin chemotherapy (myelosuppression, nausea, and vomiting) were not seen, acute local pulmonary effects (intermittent, nonproductive cough) were noted in about half the dogs.

An important finding in this study was that dogs receiving inhalation doxorubicin on the same day as systemic doxorubicin did not experience any increase in systemic toxicosis, suggesting that inhaled doxorubicin exerted its effects locally.56 Thus, combining two different routes of chemotherapy administration may exert superior anticancer effects without added toxicity.56,57

Inhaled cytokines. Similar to the delivery of inhaled chemotherapy, the aerosol delivery of liposome-encapsulated IL-2 produced clinical responses in dogs with osteosarcoma metastases, with two of four patients achieving complete remission of their metastatic disease.57 Disappointingly, two dogs with primary lung tumors did not respond as well, with one achieving stable disease and the other experiencing progressive disease. Nonetheless, this study demonstrates that antitumor immune responses may be augmented through the delivery of aerosolized cytokines.57


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