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Keywords:

  • Apoptosis;
  • Gene therapy;
  • Immunophenotyping;
  • Immunotherapy;
  • Oncogenes;
  • Tumor suppressor genes

Melanoma is a common neoplastic disease of dogs with variable presentation and biological behavior. Canine malignant melanoma is a rapidly metastatic disease that generally is incurable. The loss of function of cellular safeguards built into the genetic program and of immune surveillance systems that cooperate to prevent tumor formation and progression appear to be important underlying causes of canine malignant melanoma. In effect, many existing cancer treatments restore the function of 1 or the other of these mechanisms. For example, chemotherapy and radiotherapy often kill tumor cells by initiating a genetic suicide mechanism (apoptosis), and immunotherapy initiates or enhances a response by the body's immune cells to identify and destroy cancer cells by mechanisms that rely on direct cytotoxicity or apoptotic cell death. Nevertheless, standard therapeutic approaches have not proved effective in treatment of canine malignant melanoma, with only marginal improvement in the outcome of dogs with this disease. The advantages of an improved understanding of the molecular basis of canine cancer are underscored by recent promising advances in diagnosis and in immunologic and genetic therapies that may help reduce the mortality of dogs affected with malignant melanoma.