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Working at CSU

Hooked on beating cancer

May 25, 2010
By Nik Olsen

Dr. Sue Lana likes only one aspect of cancer - beating it. Lana, chief of Clinical Oncology Service at Colorado State's Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is interested in how cancer develops, is intrigued by its many forms, and would love to find a way to prevent it. Above all, she takes pride in helping animal patients beat cancer.

So much to discover

Dr. Sue Lana is proud of being part of CSU's Animal Cancer Center and its dynamic atmosphere.

The fear of cancer has deep roots, Lana says. “My mom would mention that someone she knew had been diagnosed with cancer. But she always whispered the word, ‘cancer.’ To her, all cancer was a death sentence. People can be very afraid, so what they need is information.”

Lana became interested in cancer while working in the blood bank of a hospital that had a large bone marrow transplant unit. She cultivated her interest in oncology while in veterinary school at CSU, and animal oncology soon became her specialty.

“What I find interesting about cancer is that it’s not just one disease, it’s many diseases,” she says. “There is so much to discover about the causes and, ultimately, how to prevent it.”

Difficult diagnosis for pet owners

Patients visiting the oncology section of CSU’s veterinary hospital are four-legged (three out of four patients are dogs), but those patients come with two-legged owners who are often very concerned.

“It’s a difficult diagnosis for pet owners to hear,” Lana says. “For many people, pets are part of the family.”

Cancers in dogs and in humans share similar characteristics, but types and treatments can differ. Lana says a primary objective is to explain to owners the types of treatments available. Chemotherapy, for instance, is generally better tolerated by a dog versus a human. Dogs may not get as sick or lose hair.

Misconceptions about cancer

“People still have a lot of misconceptions about cancer,” she says. “It’s our job to help them understand all the options.”

On this day, the small animal wing of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital is busy with a menagerie of animals. Lana takes a few moments to reflect on the daily challenges she sees while teaching students, visiting patients, and conducting research.

Lana is rightfully proud of being part of CSU’s Animal Cancer Center and its dynamic atmosphere. She’s in a good place – the ACC is the world’s largest cancer center and is recognized internationally for treating animals with cancer and being a leader in cancer research that translates from animals to humans.

Trained more vet oncologist than any other institution

The center has trained more veterinary oncologists than any other veterinary institution and is the only veterinary cancer group that has more than 25 consecutive years of funding from the National Cancer Institute.

A day in the ACC starts early as Lana accompanies veterinary students who are visiting patients. Each case is discussed among the center’s staff, and students are quizzed on best treatments and other courses of action.

Hectic, but satisfying

The rest of the day is filled with phone consultations, classes to teach, and research to continue. For Lana, it’s a hectic but satisfying pace in a constantly changing background.

“I like seeing patients, interacting with students, doing research, and figuring out the best way to treat each case,” she says, speaking in her small but sunny office adorned with photos of her family, two children, and two dogs. “We have all these advanced tools here in the center like the diagnostic PET/CT scanner, a special type of CT that images the function of tumors.

“I’m hoping this will be the last job I’ll ever need.”

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Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Spring 2010.