Hope for Horses with Cancer

By Kristine McComis, May 2009

BustoutBustout CTadThe Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s Galbreath Equine Center has successfully treated cancerous tumors in horses with a combination of surgery and radiation therapy. In the past, little was done to treat cancer in horses beyond surgical removal of the tumor, because diagnostic and radiation treatment facilities didn’t exist to accommodate the large-sized patients, and chemotherapy was often cost prohibitive. Now at Galbreath, there is a focus on equine oncology thanks to collaboration between the equine surgeons, radiation oncologists, and the cutting-edge technology available for diagnosis and treatment.

Tracie Springer’s gelding, Bustout - named because the mischievous thoroughbred liked to break out of his stall – had a three-year history of increased difficulty in breathing, accompanied by weight loss. Using an eight-slice multi-detector helical CT scanner, clinicians discovered a mass that occupied the horse’s entire right nasal passage. The large mass was pushing into the left nasal passage as well, impeding air flow.

“Surgery was performed using an innovative approach to remove the mass entirely through the nose,” said Dr. Yvonne Elce, who performed the delicate procedure. “Blood loss during the procedure required a transfusion. However, he recovered well from surgery, and was discharged just four days afterward for pasture rest.” Bustout returned for a re-check two months later. He exhibited a great attitude and some weight gain. Unfortunately, a biopsy revealed some re-growth of cancerous cells, and the decision was made to begin radiation treatment.

There are fewer than six linear accelerator facilities in the United States capable of providing external beam radiation treatment for a large animal, and we have one of them. Bustout stayed in the hospital for several weeks, receiving radiation of his right nasal passage three times a week. During his stay he was walked twice a day, had plenty of attention and enjoyed a good quality of life. He was a star patient according to Dr. Elce. “He did not need any pain medication and continued to be bright and a favorite among the hospital staff,” she said.

Bustout went home after radiation therapy and returned frequently for check-ups. After two months, the biopsy was negative – no signs of reoccurrence. Bustout was breathing easily, gaining weight, and back to his feisty attitude. Even though the cancer may eventually return, this case demonstrates that tumors can be treated successfully, while maintaining a good quality of life in older horses.