DARWIN’S ARK CANCER PROJECT
Welcome to the latest initiative of the Darwin’s Ark team. Together, we’ll be learning more about why dogs get cancer and the best ways to help them. We plan to study risk factors passed down from parents to puppies, test methods to detect cancer in a blood sample, and compare exposures to potential cancer risk factors in each dog’s home and surrounding areas.
Like people, dogs get many different types of cancer and receive many types of treatment. We’re working together with top cancer scientists in the Broad Institute’s Gerstner Center for Cancer Diagnostics, the Count Me In Initiative, and the UMass Cancer Center, and we will freely share our data (with personal information removed). This means that everything we learn can be used and shared world-wide for years to come, for the benefit of our pets, and in time our loved ones and ourselves.
If your dog has cancer now or has had cancer in the past, please enroll them in our new Darwin’s Ark Cancer Project. All dogs – purebred, mixed, or mystery – are welcome. Dogs with any type of cancer can enroll without any specific testing or treatment to qualify.
Over the coming years, we’ll be studying how environment and genetics affect cancer risk and how this data can be used to develop new ways to find and treat cancer in dogs and in people. While this work will not help any of the dogs we love today, it will help inform medical care in the future.This is the legacy we hope to build together.
What is the Darwin’s Ark Cancer Project?
The Cancer Project focuses on this devastating illness that has affected millions of pets and people. With the help of you and your dog, we plan to learn more about why some dogs get cancer and how we can best help them. We plan to study risk factors passed down from parents to puppies, test methods to detect cancer in a blood sample, and find out if the environment plays a role. Our goal is to collect data that will help scientists understand cancer in both dogs and people. We thank you for joining us in this important effort and sharing your journey with us.
What are the benefits of enrolling my dog in the Cancer Project?
By joining the community you’re contributing to our understanding of cancer, and the future of treatment and even cures – and not “just” for dogs. The research and understanding gained here might also be used in furthering the treatment and understanding of human cancers. We share so much with dogs, including our susceptibility to this disease, and our ability to be treated with similar or identical therapies.
Is there a cost to sign up?
No, the project is free for all. Joining mainly involves answering surveys and providing health information about your dog. Some dogs may also have their DNA analyzed (also called “sequencing”). If your dog is selected for DNA sequencing, we will provide the free, postpaid kit needed for you to send DNA kit.
Can I send you other samples from my dog?
No, We only accept DNA samples via our kits. If you are selected, we will contact you with all necessary instructions.
I’m already enrolled in Darwin’s Ark, do I need to enroll in the Darwin’s Ark Cancer Project separately?
The Cancer Project is under the Darwin’s Ark umbrella. If you have already signed up for Darwin’s Ark, you can enroll your dog in the Cancer Project under “My Laboratory.” If you are not already a Darwin’s Ark member, when you enroll in the Darwin’s Ark Cancer Project, you are automatically enrolled in the larger Darwin’s Ark project.
If I’m new to Darwin’s Ark, how do I enroll in the Darwin’s Ark Cancer Project?
The Cancer Project is under the Darwin’s Ark umbrella, so you will first enroll your dog in the general Darwin’s Ark Project, then sign up for the Cancer Project by completing the Darwin’s Ark Cancer Project enrollment survey. Please consider filling out as many additional surveys as you are able, as these are critical for our other research projects including those on behavior and food allergies.
I’m already enrolled in Darwin’s Ark and have submitted a saliva swab from my dog. Do I need to submit another swab?
No, the Cancer Project is part of the Darwin’s Ark Project, and only one saliva sample is needed. However, we may request other types of samples for specific studies within the Cancer Project.
Does filling out the Darwin’s Ark Cancer Project enrollment survey qualify me for a free Darwin’s Ark DNA sample kit?
No, but once you are enrolled you can complete ten Darwin’s Ark surveys to qualify for a free kit.
Does my dog receive priority for free DNA sequencing through Darwin’s Ark for signing up for the Cancer Project?
As a participant in the Cancer Project, your dog can qualify for free DNA sequencing (as funding allows) after you complete 10 surveys. Your dog has the same priority as any Darwin’s Ark participant.
Multiple dogs in my household/my dog’s litter have cancer. Can they all participate?
Yes. The Cancer Project is open to any dog who has had cancer, and the more dogs who enroll, the more power our studies will have to make discoveries.
My dog is a mutt or mixed-breed. Are they still eligible to participate?
Yes! The Cancer Project is open to all dogs.
If my dog has their DNA sequenced, will you tell me their breed ancestry?
Yes, for dogs who are sequenced, we’ll be able to tell you which breeds are in your dog’s background, as long as those breeds are in our reference panels.
My dog has passed away. Can I still enroll them?
If your dog has recently passed away (within the past year), but you’d still like to enter information about them and their cancer diagnosis and treatment, you are welcome to do so. Your dog’s contributions will still add to our collective knowledge.
Will enrolling in this project help my dog survive longer?
Unfortunately, no. This project will not provide treatment or treatment recommendations. Although we wish we could do more for dogs currently diagnosed with cancer, our research is aimed at improving outcomes for future dogs.
Will you be able to tell me about my dog’s cancer or other health-related information? Can you provide information to make treatment recommendations or determine whether a targeted therapy/clinical trial would work for my dog?
Unfortunately, as we are a research project, not a veterinary clinic, we are not in a position to offer advice about your dog’s treatment. Darwin’s Ark, including the Cancer Project, does not offer health results for use in predicting cancer; diagnostic information; or treatment recommendations.
Can I share my dog’s sequencing results with other studies?
Yes. Because the Cancer Project is an open data project, we are happy to provide your dog’s DNA data (if your dog is sequenced) on your request, and you can then share it with other studies as you choose.
Will you sequence my dog’s tumor?
For those subset of dogs in the project that will be sequenced, we will only sequence saliva – in other words, we will not be sequencing your dog’s tumor. The genetic data derived from your dog’s saliva does not include mutations (changes in the DNA) that have taken place in the tumor itself.
Can you match my dog to a clinical trial?
We are not able to match dogs to clinical trials, but have provided some resources below to help you find available clinical trials if you are interested in exploring that option.
In addition, veterinary schools can be good resources for learning about clinical trials. Check to see if there is a veterinary school in your area:
Will being part of this project in any way change or limit my dog’s treatment options?
No, participation in this study does not require that you choose or avoid any specific treatment, including participation in clinical trials and making end-of-life decisions (euthanasia).
If my dog passes away, do you require that (s)he undergo a necropsy (autopsy) to learn more or to collect samples?
No, there are no such requirements. If you do choose to have a necropsy performed and would be willing to share the results with us, it could help us in our research and increase your dog’s contribution to fighting canine and human cancers. If you previously submitted a DNA sample for your dog, we may be able to sequence that sample for this project as well.
Do I need to notify the Cancer Project prior to euthanizing my dog, should that become necessary?
No, we understand that these decisions are difficult enough as it is. We ask that you notify us whenever you are comfortable doing so. This can be done through your dog’s profile in your Darwin’s Ark Laboratory. You do not need to speak with or write to anyone directly.
Consent & Privacy
Will people know who I am and who my dog is?
No. Darwin’s Ark takes both your own and your dog’s privacy very seriously. While the information we’re collecting will be used world-wide in cancer research, any identifying information would be removed if the data is being used outside our direct project. You and your dog would be anonymous in any analysis or report.
On the Darwin’s Ark website, your dog’s first name and photo will be available for use on social media unless you opt-out by checking the box labeled “Do not use dog’s picture publicly” under your dog’s profile.
Will my participation be noted somewhere?
You will receive a virtual ribbon honoring your contribution to canine health research. You can choose to display it on your account if you like, or not if you would rather keep your participation private. To change the display settings for your ribbon, click on “Edit” under your dog’s name in your Laboratory. You can then check or uncheck the box next to “Do not show health portal ribbon.”
Am I able to change my mind and withdraw consent if I no longer want my dog to be included in the study?
You may withdraw consent at any time for the use of your dog’s sample and information in any future studies including those in our laboratory and other laboratories. We ask that you contact us in writing with your request and your reason for withdrawing from the project.
Participants with DNA sequences and accompanying data that have already been included in a past or current study cannot have their information removed from those studies.
What if I have additional questions?
Please contact us at support@DarwinsArk.org
Can you recommend a veterinary oncologist?
Your primary care veterinarian may have recommendations for oncology care. In addition, you can search for veterinary oncologists in your area here: https://find.vetspecialists.com
Why did my dog get cancer?
Cancer is a complex disease, and the cause of most cases remains unknown. We know that some dogs are genetically predisposed to developing cancer, including dogs of particular breeds. In addition, as in people, some environmental exposures may be associated with cancer. However, we are only beginning to understand the complex relationship between environmental exposures and cancer in dogs.
What questions should I ask my veterinarian if my dog has cancer?
It will be important to have an informative, honest, and ongoing conversation with your veterinarian regarding your dog’s diagnosis and any questions you might have about the diagnosis or your dog’s care. It can be helpful to think of these questions and write them down in advance to help you process your thoughts and remember the answers during an emotionally difficult time. If you receive any paperwork with information and/or instructions from your primary veterinarian or veterinary oncologist, this is the best place to start; we recommend you read through these documents carefully and note any follow-up questions you have for your next visit. In addition, some questions or topics to consider asking about include (but are certainly not limited to):
- What specific cancer type was my dog diagnosed with?
- Where is the tumor(s) located?
- What is my dog’s prognosis?
- What treatment options are available for my dog?
- Are there any clinical trials available?
- Are there any signs to watch for that may indicate a need for additional veterinary care?
- Are there any activities my dog should avoid?
- Are there any possible interactions between supplements or medications my dog may be taking and cancer drugs/treatments that I should be aware of?
Where can I find more information about canine cancer?
There are many additional resources available online offering information about different aspects of canine cancer. We have compiled some of these resources below.
The Veterinary Cancer Society provides an owner FAQ with links to additional resources:
Clinical trials and comparative studies
Join the Darwin’s Ark Cancer Project Community Group on Facebook by clicking here.
If you’re struggling:
Many of us at Darwin’s Ark have lost pets to cancer, and we empathize deeply with how difficult it is. In support of our fellow pet-owners, we have compiled a list of resources for caregivers and those experiencing pet loss and bereavement. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, and is not an endorsement of the specific organizations listed, but it is a starting resource for those who may be struggling at this difficult time.
Lap of Love offers a Pet Loss & Bereavement Resource Line, and their website also includes a comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list of links to larger directories of locally focused Pet Loss Support groups, directories of in-person and telemedicine-based counselors, resources for grieving children, university-based resources, suggested books, and more. The Lap of Love website also has an Education section with helpful information about Anticipatory Grief, the grief a caregiver can feel while caring for a pet with a terminal diagnosis. The Education section also contains advice for caregivers of geriatric pets and pets with mobility issues.
The ASPCA includes guidance for End of Life Pet Care and decision-making on their website.
MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center describes available Caregiver Support Resources for those struggling with caring for an ill pet, making difficult medical decisions, or grieving the loss of a pet.
Two additional pet loss support hotlines are managed by Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Many other veterinary schools offer similar resources – check with the school nearest you.
Darwin’s Ark is a non-profit scientific research project seeking answers to common health and behavioral issues. We can’t succeed without your help. Please join us as a valued contributor. Thank you!