Dogs Really Are Man’s Best Friend: Osteosarcoma Research in Great Danes

Figure 1: A girl playing with her Great Dane

When seven-year-old Laura started complaining of knee pain, her mother became concerned. The day Laura asked to skip ballet class because her knee was bothering her, Mrs. Jones knew something was seriously wrong; unfortunately she did not know how bad it really was. After various scans and many long office visits with stone-faced doctors, Laura was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. The cancer caused a tumor to grow beside her kneecap, causing severe pain. By the time the doctors finally found the tumor, the cancer had metastasized and spread to her ankles and elbows. While surgery was an option for removing the tumor, doctors had no cure to offer.

Over the next two years, Laura braved surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. Her treatments left her too weak to go outside and play, so she spent most of her time with her Great Dane, Mazie. She was shocked and saddened when the veterinarian diagnosed Mazie with osteosarcoma as well. Her doctor explained the similarity between her cancer and Mazie’s. In fact, Laura and Mazie actually share the same genetic basis for certain types of cancer. The doctor also told Laura how Great Danes like Mazie were being used in research that could someday help develop a cure for her cancer.

In recent years, scientists have been studying canines to learn more about bone cancer. “There are ties between human and animal health, just as there is a bond between people and their pets,” says Stuart Helfand, the head of the oncology program at Oregon State University (Floyd, 2011).

Figure 2: Osteosarcoma in a Great Dane

Figure 2: Osteosarcoma in a Great Dane

Osteosarcomas are the most frequently diagnosed malignant bone tumor in both humans and canines, and although bone cancer is not very common in humans, it is more than 10 times more prevalent in dogs. Great Danes, like many other dogs, are at high risk for bone cancer (Comstock, 2013), which is usually found in the dog’s appendicular skeleton, commonly near the knee, just like Laura’s (National Canine Cancer Foundation, 2006).

Great Danes vs. Humans

Great Danes, like Mazie, present cancer similarly to humans, including rate of metastases, genetic dysregulation, and survival rates. Moreover, dogs have been found to be more homologous to humans than more traditional animal models, like mice. Another reason dogs have been found to be effective models is the fact that they live in the same habitat as humans.

Great Danes are one of the best canine models for human cancer research because they have the highest chance of developing a malignancy in their lifetime (Beil, 2013). Compared to lab rats and mice, Great Danes are better models for human disease because they are genetically more similar. “All too often, treatments that have worked in lab mice haven’t worked when we’ve taken them to human clinical trials. [The canine] model is much closer to human disease.” said Jeffrey Klausner of the University of Minnesota (Lamb, 2004).


In past studies, canines have yielded important information on the formation of cancers such as blood, bone and brain (Beil, 2013). Currently there is work being done at the University of Pennsylvania to formulate a vaccine against canine osteosarcomas. This vaccine has a possibility of being used not only in dogs but in humans as well.


Figure 3: Great Danes

Cancer research in canines is giving medical professionals a greater understanding of cancer in both humans and animals. By knowing how different types of cancer grow, researchers can develop more specific and effective treatments. It also becomes easier to prevent the disease as they identify more causes. Now, Laura does not feel so alone. She has her best friend by her side, sharing the same struggles and helping her in more ways than she ever knew.

In Brief:

  • Bone cancer is extremely prevalent in large dogs, especially Great Danes.
  • Osteosarcomas are the most common bone tumors in both humans and canines.
  • Because of the similar characteristics between human and canine disease and lifestyle, canines are accurate models for human cancers.
  • In past studies, Great Danes have yielded important information about cancer in both humans and dogs.

Works Cited

This article was written by cYw21. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff


Author: cYw21

Hi everyone and welcome to cYw! I am a first year writer for the blog and excited to be published! I enjoyed having the chance to research osteosarcomas in canines and I hope this topic is as fascinating and important to you as it is to me. An article I read on cYw last year was actually the inspiration behind my research I conducted on chlorophyll this year! I hope that everyone who visits this blog can utilize the information they learn to do something meaningful. Besides writing for cYw, I enjoy doing my own independent research relating to cancer. I also play varsity field hockey and am involved in debate team and Model UN.

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    My 7 year old great dane Betty (today is her bday) was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on June 17. My mom is a vegan and believes in alternative medicine for curing human as well as animal disease. We are working hard to find the best food/ supplements to help her. We are in nj. And would travel to pa in a heartbeat if there were any help available. We are limited in funds and would feed her meat if it helped her. She is getting worse quickly so please let me know if you have any insight. Thank you- Kristin

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    I think it’s great that scientists are making comparisons between the Great Dane’s Osteosarcoma with human Osteosarcoma. Now that we are able to make connections and have an accurate model for Osteosarcoma in humans, it should now be easier to create treatments for humans based on the Great Dane genetic makeup. A cure for dog Osteosarcoma will most likely come first, but even that is a step in the right direction for this bone caner in humans. Research for this disease was desperately needed, as this cancer is more common in dogs, and is slowly affecting humans. Not many know of this type of cancer, but it is a growing issue. Now with the proper comparisons and research, there is one step closer to a cure both in animals and humans.

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