Dr. Karen Becker Interviews Dr. Betsy Hershey (Dog that has Cancer – and Helps Her Live Longer Too)
Dog that has Cancer – and Helps Her Live Longer Too
By Dr. Becker
Today I’m speaking via Skype with a very special guest, Dr. Betsy Hershey. Dr. Hershey is a board-certified veterinary oncologist who owns a cancer center for animals called Integrative Veterinary Oncology in Phoenix, Arizona. Her unique facility combines conventional Western therapies with acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, ozone therapy, ultraviolet therapy and other complementary therapies.
Dr. Hershey combines conventional Western and complementary therapies in her treatment of cancer patients.
Dr. Hershey has studied traditional Chinese veterinary medicine extensively with Dr. Xie and colleagues at the Chi Institute in Reddick, Florida. She lectures regularly on the role of integrative medicine in the treatment of cancer in animals. Dr. Hershey has also authored a dozen or more papers on a variety of medical topics.
I asked Dr. Hershey to join me today to discuss some exciting research she and Dr. Xie are heading up. Dr. Xie is unable to join us today because he’s incredibly busy running the Chi Institute, in addition to being a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida. Dr. Xie is also heavily involved in integrative veterinary medicine research.
I asked Dr. Hershey to give a little background on her veterinary career and how she decided to become a veterinary oncologist.
Dr. Hershey responded that she arrived at her choice of specialty in a roundabout way. As a vet student, she had an interest in aquatic animal medicine and also zoo animal medicine, and did externships at SeaWorld in Florida and the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
But her zoo-related colleagues encouraged her to do a small animal medicine and surgery internship before pursuing zoo animal medicine. As she explains it, her first rotation was oncology. She fell in love with it … and that was that!
People ask Dr. Hershey questions like, “Isn’t it a sad field? Isn’t it always disappointing?” Her answer? “No!” She feels incredibly hopeful, and she and her colleagues are able to offer hope to owners. “Sometimes, we’re they’re last hope,” says Dr. Hershey. She and her team have been fortunate to meet a lot of great people and wonderful animals, and have been able to provide a great quality of life for those pets, and in many cases, an extended life. Early in her career, Dr. Hershey recognized the need for alternative therapies for animals with cancer.
Next I wanted to know how far into her career as a board-certified veterinary oncologist Dr. Hershey was when she began to feel frustrated by the lack of tools available to help improve the quality of life of animals with cancer.She replied that it happened very fast. After she finished her residency, she joined a private practice in Arizona, and she quickly realized she didn’t have all the tools she wanted to help her patients. Dr. Hershey explains there are certain cancers for which chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery are helpful, but those treatments aren’t helpful in every case. And there are owners who don’t want to pursue those kinds of treatments for their pet.
Dr. Hershey didn’t want to tell owners there was nothing more she could do for their pet because she didn’t believe it herself – especially for those animals that still had great spirit and a good quality of life. Dr. Hershey wanted to be able to offer other types of treatments, so she started researching Chinese medicine, and that’s how she met Dr. Xie.
I asked Dr. Hershey if she felt reinvigorated in her ability to help sick animals when she began studying traditional Chinese medicine. She responded that she absolutely did. She had been in conversation with some of her alternative practice colleagues about the different courses available to learn complementary therapies. Everyone she talked to had great things to say about Dr. Xie and the Chi Institute. When Dr. Hershey arrived at the Institute, she felt like it was a new door opening. She says the environment there is amazing, and she goes back from time to time to renew her spirit for people, for medicine, and for her work with veterinary cancer patients.
The #1 cancer veterinarians see in their practices is canine lymphoma.
Practicing integrative veterinary oncology means making use of everything one learns about traditional and non-traditional cancer treatments. I see cancer patients in my own practice, many of whom are referred to me for adjunctive therapy. There are no integrative veterinary oncologists in my neck of the woods.
The number one cancer I see in my practice is lymphoma. It feels to me like it’s reaching epidemic proportions. I asked Dr. Hershey to talk about this particular type of cancer.
She replied that lymphoma is also the cancer she sees most often, and owners come to her clinic for Western and integrative therapies. She explains that we really don’t understand what causes lymphoma any better than we understand what causes other forms of cancer. But we’re definitely seeing more and more cases of it, especially in certain breeds of dog like the Golden Retriever. And we’re seeing it in younger dogs, again, especially in the case of goldens.
Dr. Hershey says lymphoma is a difficult disease. It’s very rewarding to treat initially with chemotherapy because it is very responsive to chemo – but it doesn’t cure the disease. The cure for lymphoma continues to elude us, and Dr. Hershey feels we have really reached the limit of what Western medicine and chemotherapy have to offer veterinary lymphoma patients.
No real advances have been made in the treatment of this disease in a long time. The same chemo protocols Dr. Hershey was taught during her residency are still in use today. No real progress has been made in improving remission time or finding a cure.
Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture can dramatically lengthen the lives of dogs receiving chemotherapy for lymphoma.
I asked Dr. Hershey to share a little about what she and Dr. Xie are working on, because it’s incredibly exciting. It’s like a breath of fresh air – for both vets and pet owners – that could potentially change the face of veterinary oncology.
Dr. Hershey explained that she’s been practicing Chinese medicine for the last eight years, and she routinely incorporates Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, along with good nutrition, in her protocols for chemotherapy patients. It is offered to every cancer patient, and definitely every lymphoma patient that comes through the door.
Not every owner wants to pursue acupuncture or herbal medicine, but Dr. Hershey’s experience over the last eight years is that those pet owners who do incorporate alternative therapies have their dogs longer than owners who don’t. Dogs are able to live longer with the disease when they receive complementary therapies in addition to chemo. Dr. Hershey says she is seeing years of remission time in these dogs, where chemotherapy alone only offers, on average, a year of remission and survival time.
She says Dr. Xie has observed the same outcome, and so has Dr. Connie DiNatale, who is a colleague of Dr. Xie’s at the Chi Institute. They are seeing clinical results, and now they want to develop a clinical trial that scientifically proves what they’ve witnessed with their patients.
Clinical trials are extremely expensive, and are often funded by pharmaceutical companies with a huge stake in the outcome. Those companies aren’t interested in funding research studies on herbal medicine because there’s no big money to be made. I asked Dr. Hershey to talk about the uphill battle to fund studies to provide evidence-based research on her findings on complementary therapies for dogs with lymphoma.
Dr. Hershey responded that while alternative treatments – including Chinese medicine – are becoming more accepted, especially among pet owners, it’s true that the pharmaceutical industry isn’t going to back these types of studies.
Dr. Hershey goes on to say that she and her colleagues need funding to perform the study. They want to be able to offer alternative therapies to every owner of a dog with lymphoma, regardless of cost. They want to cover the cost of the acupuncture and herbal medicine as an incentive for owners to be involved in the study while their pets are also undergoing chemotherapy.
How you can help.
The lymphoma study Dr. Hershey is heading up is designed and ready to go. All it lacks is funding.
You, as a reader of my Healthy Pets newsletter and advocate for integrative veterinary medicine, have a unique opportunity to help support this much-needed research by making a donation to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation by clicking the Donate Today button below. For more information on why individuals like you are so important to this effort, read Integrative Holistic Medicine Needs a Champion and Returning Science to Our Citizens.
I often hear from clients remarks like, “Well, you know, my regular vet says there’s not enough data to use herbs for this condition. Even though, Dr. Becker, you’re recommending it or Dr. Hershey is recommending it, my regular vet or my regular oncologist says there’s just no research there.”
What most pet owners don’t realize is that research funding in general has dried up in the last decade, and huge pharmaceutical companies capable of funding veterinary research will never fund studies to demonstrate the use of herbal remedies to treat medical conditions.
The study Dr. Hershey and her colleagues have designed is a double blind, controlled study that can provide information to improve the lives of animals fighting cancer. At the same time, it may also pique the interest of open-minded veterinarians searching for safe adjunctive therapies.
The study will also stimulate thought within the traditional veterinary community. DVMs don’t find integrative medicine research results in professional journals because no funding exists to conduct the studies. This sad situation is why the validity of the entire field of holistic medicine is constantly being challenged. We simply don’t have the funds to scientifically prove what we know to be true.
Dr. Hershey’s study is an opportunity to make a small step in the right direction. If you support the advancement of research within the field of integrative veterinary medicine, now is the time to give … because Mercola Healthy Pets will match every dollar donated to this important study up to $20,000 dollars.
I want to thank Dr. Hershey for talking with us today about the lymphoma study. I’m excited to have the opportunity to support this effort. I can’t wait to see the study findings and share them with pet owners and the veterinary community at large.