Did you get it all? That is a critical question often asked after tumor removal surgery. At the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), Dr. Milan Milovancev is addressing that question in his research on canine cancer.
Dr. Milovancev is a soft tissue surgeon who operates on hundreds of dogs with cancer every year. He also conducts research and clinical trials that focus on finding the optimal amount of tissue to remove, and the best way to tell if a tumor surgery was successful.
“I am dedicated to improving the quality of life for cancer patients by working to maximize chances of removing all the cancer during one surgery, while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible,” he says. This includes studying how tumors grow, how to plan tumor surgery, and how to best test for residual cancer cells after surgery. “Accurately determining whether or not a surgical procedure has successfully achieved local tumor control [removal of all cancer cells] is paramount,” he says, “Incorrect diagnostics in this regard may result in needless additional surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.” It also impacts whether a cancer will return.
The VTH is staffed with board-certified, veterinary specialists so Dr. Milovancev can collaborate with colleagues in oncology, pathology and radiology to design and implement these tumor margin studies. He can also invite clients whose dogs have cancer to participate in clinical trials that yield valuable data about the studies.
Doobie is a recent patient of Dr. Milovancev and that makes him a very lucky dog. Doobie’s mom, Molly Swenson, was referred to OSU by her local veterinarian because Doobie had a large growth on his nostril. Tests revealed it to be a malignant skin cancer tumor. “Surgery to remove a tumor in this location can be difficult due to the proximity to important anatomical structures,” says Dr. Milovancev. Size was also a factor; Doobie is a nine-pound Chihuahua.
Dr. Milovancev removed Doobie’s tumor and reconstructed his nasal passageways in two separate procedures, using information gained in previous and ongoing tumor margin studies. “While Doobie wasn’t part of a study himself, he benefited from the patients who have participated in these studies over the past few years,” says Dr. Milovancev. “The microscopic analysis of his tumor, and the surgical margins we removed showed that we got it all and the tumor has a relatively low chance of growing back.”
Doobie is six months post-surgery and doing great. His now-permanent grin is appropriate because his mom reports that he is a ‘happy, little dog’. Although Doobie can breathe normally, he sometimes blows bubbles out of one nostril. “I asked him if I could call him Bubbles and he nipped at me,” says Swenson, “so Doobie it will, unfortunately, remain.”