Dr. Nathan D. Lee, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, gave a lecture on Friday entitled "A New Radiation Therapy for Cancer in Pet Animals", kicking off a series of lectures this semester hosted by the UT Science Forum.
The new therapy that Lee, assistant professor of radiation oncology at UT's College of Veterinary Science, spoke of is Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy. IMRT has been used on humans for about 15 years, but is in its infancy in veterinary medicine. An improvement over the other method used, 3D Conformal Radiation Therapy, it improves the dose distribution, meaning that more radiation goes to the tumor and less spills onto the surrounding soft tissue. This results in fewer side effects and therefore heightened quality of life. IMRT also causes dry mouth in fewer human patients, 17 percent compared to 63 percent of patients who received Conformal Radiation Therapy. The radiation is delivered with a linear accelerator, and Lee believes that the UT College of Veterinary Medicine has the newest in the Knoxville region.
While IMRT is an improvement in treatment, there is still a long way to go toward curing cancer in animals.
"We don't like to use the word 'cure' in veterinary medicine," Lee said. "Unlike humans, unfortunately, dogs and cats don't really show that they have a tumor."
This makes it difficult to know if a pet has cancer until side effects, such as seizures or inability to urinate, begin to show. Still, IMRT treatment is a step toward bringing more precise, and thus better, cancer treatment to animals.
Despite the specific and technical nature of the lecture, a variety of audience members were present. Many were retired professors from multiple science disciplines including animal science, biology, physics and psychology. Several attendees were students. Zoe Johnson, sophomore in chemical engineering, explained her academic and personal reasons for attending.
"For every chemical engineering class you take a couple (of) CEs, which is continuing education, and you have to attend ten meetings or lectures or something having to do with science just to stay involved in the class. So we were given a list of lectures to come to and I just really like animals," Johnson said.
Johnson aspires to enter the medical field, but not to become a veterinarian.
"I would go into veterinary medicine, but I just love animals so much it would probably be too heartbreaking for me," she said.
Johnson was not the only ardent animal lover in attendance. Holly Greene, lecturer in management, also attended. She felt a "personal connection" to the subject, having lost her own dog to cancer. Greene's interest as a pet owner led her to seek answers from Lee during the Q-and-A session after the lecture. Greene asked why cancer is seemingly more frequent now than in years past. Lee replied that pets are living longer, increasing their odds of having tumors. Veterinarians have also become much better at diagnosing cancer in pets — probably many pets have died of cancer because no one considered that could be the cause.
The UT Science Forum meets from noon to 1 p.m. every Friday in dining room C-D in Thompson Boling Arena. Attendees are welcome to eat their lunch while listening to the speaker. The next presenter at the Science Forum will be Dr. Christopher Cherry, whose lecture is entitled "Electric Cars in China — Only as Clean as Their Coal."