An Early Detection Test for Cancer: Dogs Today, Cats Tomorrow, Soon Us?

Charles during a visit to the vet.
Charles at the local veterinary clinic. No cancer today. Photo by Kari Kenefick.
In statistics from 2009, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association states that 39% of US households include at least one dog, for a total of 77.5 million “owned” dogs (1).

An estimated 50% of those owning dogs say that their dog is considered a family member. (As for the other 50%…can you say “denial”?). Many of us grew up with dogs that joined us in family activities such as camping trips and visits to relatives. One of my family dogs was better traveled than many of the kids with whom I went to college.

The dogs I grew up with were relatively healthy and lived long lives. But cancer can strike at any time in a dog’s life, and as a member of our families, a diagnosis of cancer is anguishing. It is estimated that four of every 1,000 dogs will develop cancer (2).

As cancer specialists know, early detection is one of the most important tools in a fight against cancer. As dog owners and veterinarians know, our happy friend, the dog, is notoriously bad at letting us know when they’re not feeling well. The watchful eye of a dog’s person, plus a diagnostic test that finds signs of cancer early, could go a long way towards keeping our dogs with us as long as possible.

To that end, in February of this year (2010) Biocurex announced the development of a rapid cancer test for dogs. This test is said to detect 85% of all canine cancers, at a 95% specificity level (2). The test is done on a blood specimen that your veterinarian collects and send to the testing laboratory. The cost is an estimated $65–75 US.

Perhaps more important is that Biocurex, while offering this test now for our furry canine friends, is working to develop the same technology for use in humans.

This relatively new test detects a cancer biomarker called RECAF, a molecule present on cancer cells but not detected in significant levels on healthy cells or benign tumor cells. Expression of RECAF is related to rapid cell growth, characteristic of cancer growth and fetal development.

Biocurex is the parent company of OncoPet Diagnostics. This first blood test for canine cancer detection is called OncoPet RECAF™. Blood samples are collected by your veterinarian and sent for testing to the Biocurex facility, where the reagents have been developed. This allows Biocurex to proceed rapidly and inexpensively to commercialization, as it does not require test kit production, sales or distribution. In addition, time isn’t needed to gain regulatory approval.

Good news for cat owners as well. Biocurex hopes to have a feline cancer test kit, aimed at the same RECAF biomarker, ready later in 2010 (3).


  1. U.S Pet Ownership Statistics, The Human Society of the United States ( Accessed May 11, 2010.

  2. Online News for Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups
    ( Accessed March 24, 2010.
  3. Biocurex announces commercialization of the first blood test for cancer detection in companion animals. ( Accessed May 11, 2010.
  4. The following two tabs change content below.

    Kari Kenefick

    Kari has been a science writer/editor for Promega since 1996. Prior to that she enjoyed working in veterinary microbiology/immunology, and has an M.S. in Bacteriology, U of WI-Madison. Favorite topics include infectious disease, inflammation, aging, exercise, nutrition and personality traits. When not writing, she enjoys training her dogs in agility and obedience. About the practice of writing, as we say for cell-based assays, "add-mix-measure".


  1. An update May 25: Previously listed here as a “molecular diagnostic” test, a BioCurex official notes that the RECAF test can be done as a radioimmunoassay (RIA), flash chemiluminescence assay (CIA) or ELISA. (And for the record, my only connection to BioCurex or OncoPet is several emails enquiring about the test.)

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