Exploring New Treatments for Bone Cancer

Author: Sharon M. Albright, DVM, CCRT

Osteosarcoma (OSA) is the most common primary bone tumor in dogs and humans. It is most commonly found in large and giant dog breeds and usually affects the long bones or those of the limbs. Standard treatment involves surgical removal of the tumor via amputation or limb salvage surgery followed by chemotherapy to control spread of the disease to other places in the body (metastasis). Unfortunately, not all dogs with this cancer are good surgical candidates and metastatic disease and death are common within 12 months of diagnosis. New treatments are needed that are less invasive and result in better outcomes. With funding from the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) (Grant 02773: Histotripsy for Treatment of Canine Appendicular Osteosarcoma), investigators at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine are exploring a new technology for treatment of OSA in dogs known as histotripsy.

While most of us are familiar with ultrasound as a diagnostic imaging tool, histotripsy is a non-invasive, focused ultrasound method that uses controlled ultrasound pulses to mechanically break up tissues. It can be applied to a very precise area and does not damage neighboring tissue. Histotripsy has been studied as a treatment for soft tissue tumors, but has not yet been investigated for the treatment of bone tumors.

Histotripsy shows promise as a non-invasive treatment method for canine osteosarcoma.

Investigators constructed a custom, computer-guided, 3D positioning system to orient the ultrasound waves to the desired tissue location. OSA tumor samples were donated to this study from client-owned dogs that underwent amputation as part of their standard care. Some tumor samples were embedded in gelatin to mimic the normal tissue surrounding tumors in live dogs, and two samples were treated and evaluated with normal muscle and skin attached.

Results of this study were promising.1 Even though bone tumors in general and those that were studied vary in their make-up with different amounts of normal structure, softened bone, and cancerous cells, histotripsy treatment resulted in complete disintegration of the targeted tissue. There was no evidence of damage to the overlying muscle or skin layers. Even samples of normal muscle and nerve tissue showed no evidence of damage after treatment with the histotripsy parameters used to target bone cancer, demonstrating that the treatment can be very tissue specific.

Histotripsy shows promise as a non-invasive treatment method for canine osteosarcoma. Future studies will evaluate the treatment in live dogs, help us understand its physiologic and immune-stimulating effects, and further define the safest and most effective treatment parameters. Results may even benefit humans affected by this devastating cancer. CHF is also funding a study to evaluate this technology for treatment of canine brain tumors with Grant 02907: Ultrasound-guided Histotripsy Ablation of Canine Brain Tumors through an Acoustically Transparent Cranial Window. Learn more and support this work at akcchf.org/caninecancer.

Learn more about this study and the use of histotripsy to treat bone cancer in the CHF-sponsored webinar,
A Novel Non-Surgical Option to Preserve Limbs in Canine Osteosarcoma.”


  1. Arnold, L., Hendricks-Wenger, A., Coutermarsh-Ott, S., Gannon, J., Hay, A. N., Dervisis, N., Klahn, S., Allen, I. C., Tuohy, J., & Vlaisavljevich, E. (2021). Histotripsy Ablation of Bone Tumors: Feasibility Study in Excised Canine Osteosarcoma Tumors. Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ultrasmedbio.2021.08.004

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