New treatment available in Britain for inoperable melanomas in horses

The new procedures requires three treatment sessions, a week apart. Photo: Royal Veterinary College
The new procedures requires three treatment sessions, a week apart. Photo: Royal Veterinary College

Horse owners in Britain now have a new option to treat melanomas that are difficult to access or considered inoperable.

The Equine Referral Hospital at the Royal Veterinary College is the only centre in Britain to offer melanoma treatment for horses using non-invasive heat technology.

Melanomas are common in older grey horses of any breed or gender. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of grey horses will have at least one melanoma during their lifetime.

The new treatment focuses on melanomas affecting the parotid region (around the salivary glands behind the jaw bones) and other anatomically sensitive areas that are less amenable to surgery. Until now, there has been no effective treatment option for lesions in these areas.

The  treatment involves thermofield hyperthermia and intratumoral chemotherapy. Thermofield hyperthermia transfers a large volume of electromagnetic energy deep into biological tissue. The absorbed energy then causes molecular friction, gently heating the targeted area to therapeutic temperatures that selectively kills cancerous cells without harming the surrounding healthy tissue.

In addition, the heat increases drug penetration into tumours and inhibits DNA repair in cancer cells. The equipment is safe, effective, and easy to use.

The Royal Veterinary College Animal Care Trust funded the special equipment needed for the treatment.

Horses that meet the criteria will receive three treatments, one week apart. This involves injection of the chemotherapeutic drug into the melanoma, under sedation, followed by hyperthermia using the thermofield unit. The entire procedure takes about one hour and is relatively painless. A second hyperthermia treatment is then performed the next day, before the horse is discharged. The whole process is repeated for three treatment rounds.

Dr Michael Heweston, senior lecturer in equine medicine at the college, said although it is a relatively new treatment, he has been impressed with the response in the horses reated thus far. “I am optimistic for the future,” he says. “We will be collecting data over the coming months to report on its effectiveness.”

The treatment will only be available in the Equine Referral Hospital and horses will need to be admitted for assessment and treatment.

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