Cat Undergoes Rare Limb-Sparing Treatment at Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center

Note to Reporters: Photos of Cyrano are available with this release at

Cyrano, a 10-year-old long haired orange tabby cat, is recovering at home in Virginia after receiving treatment for bone cancer in his left rear leg at Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center. Cyrano is believed to be one of the first cats in the nation to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment for osteosarcoma.

Cyrano’s size – weighing in at 28 pounds – made it impossible for him to maintain a quality of life if veterinarians were to amputate his leg. Amputation is the typical treatment for cats with bone cancer, and, unfortunately, many cats are not treated for bone cancer while dogs often are.

Cyrano’s owner, Sandy Lerner, a co-founder of Cisco Systems, refused to accept a dim prognosis for Cyrano when he was diagnosed on March 9 after he began limping.

“Everyone told me we had to amputate Cyrano’s leg, but I did not think he would do well with three legs, given that he weighs 28 pounds, and my veterinarian agreed. I called several universities and spoke with four veterinarians and did a week of research. In the end, everyone said that if anyone could save Cyrano’s leg, it would be Dr. Withrow at the Animal Cancer Center,” Lerner said of Dr. Steve Withrow, director of the center. CSU’s Animal Cancer Center is the largest center of its kind in the world, seeing about 5,000 appointments for animals – mainly dogs and cats, but other four-legged friends as well – with cancer a year.

Soon after his arrival at CSU on March 11, Cyrano underwent a highly-specialized treatment at CSU called stereotactic radiosurgery, or SRS. This is a targeted treatment available on the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Varian Trilogy accelerator – the only radiation delivery machine of its kind at a veterinary hospital in the world. SRS is a treatment designed to precisely destroy tumors while preventing amputation and has been performed at CSU on 37 dogs, 100 percent of which exhibited complete eradication of the tumor site locally in follow-up analyses.

Cyrano, whom Lerner picked from a litter of barn cats on her farm when he was a kitten, was first given a whole-body CT scan, which indicated no metastasis from the leg site. He was then treated three times with SRS radiotherapy without complication and discharged the day after his final treatment. He also received the first dose of chemotherapy as an adjuvant to the SRS and is continuing treatment in Virginia. Since being home, he is “nearly back to his old self,” and Lerner wants his story to benefit other cat owners.

“Why are so few cats treated for cancer when they often get more operable tumors? There is also no bone bank for cats, only dogs. Why? And, so much of the current cancer research is conducted on dogs – and some animal cancer treatments are only available to dogs, such as genetically targeted tumor therapy,” Lerner said. “I want other cat owners to understand that there are options for their pets with cancer other than amputation and euthanasia, and to advocate for those options with their veterinarians. Cancer therapy today uses both genotyping and immunotherapy, neither of which is available for pets, even though the human-model research for both treatment types was done on dogs, and we know that many of those treatments produced positive outcomes for the animals.”

Withrow said that national statistics reflect that fewer cats than dogs are treated when they develop cancer.

“It is not clear why there are more dogs than cats treated for cancer,” Withrow said. “For example, cats are only about 15 percent of the caseload here at the Animal Cancer Center. There are slightly more cats than dogs in the United States, but cancer is slightly more common in dogs and people than in cats. One possible reason is that cats are unique animals and cancer in cats does not always behave the same as cancer in dogs and people. On the other hand, the prognosis for a cat with cancer can be very positive, and bone cancer in cats — which is much rarer than bone cancer in dogs — is very curable.”

Cyrano’s treatment while at the Animal Cancer Center was under the supervision of Dr. Sue LaRue, radiation oncologist, Dr. Jamie Custis, radiation oncology resident and Dr. Jim Perry, medical oncology resident.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for pet dogs and cats in the United States; as many as 50 percent of cats and dogs die of cancer. Cancer in pets is often treatable with specialized medical intervention. Many of the same treatments that are available for humans are now available for pets, according to Withrow. These treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Not all cancers are the same and treatment options are dictated by the location and biologic behavior of the cancer.

Warning signs of cancer in a pet include persistent, abnormal lumps, bumps or swellings anywhere on the body; sores that do not heal; unexplained weight loss; loss of appetite or difficulty eating or swallowing; bleeding or discharge from any body opening; an offensive odor; hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina; persistent lameness; or difficulty urinating, defecating or breathing.