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Imaging Center Screens Dogs for Cancer

Search-and-rescue dogs from the Pentagon attack participate in cancer-screening study.

Golden retrievers Bailey and Riley recently made a special visit to the vet. They were search-and-rescue dogs who were at the Pentagon, and veterinarians will monitor them to see whether they develop cancer in their nasal cavities from inhaling debris.

"What we're looking for is the beginning of nasal tumors that could start," said Iams veterinarian Dan Carey.

The Iams Pet Imaging Center on Maple Avenue in Vienna is part of a study monitoring the status of dogs that participated in search-and-rescue efforts at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Once a year for five years, 12 dogs will receive an MRI screening to test for cancerous developments within their nasal cavities.

Because of their long snouts, dog breeds associated with search-and-rescue efforts are prone to nasal cancer. Veterinarians want to test whether inhaling the dust and asbestos from Pentagon and World Trade Center debris speeds up or encourages cancerous activity.

"They inhaled a lot of material ... that could be carcinogenic," Carey said.

Veterinarians hope that the study, which is being conducted in conjunction with a separate study by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania, will help them treat search-and-rescue dogs better. They hope that the findings will help them determine what working conditions search-and-rescue dogs should avoid, how they should search, and how they should be treated afterward.

"This is going to give us a better feel for the risks these dogs are working in," Carey said.

The results of the MRI screening are read by Dr. Pat Gavin, a radiologist with Washington State University.

Veterinarians will also attempt to see if the results of the study can be transferable to humans who perform search-and-rescue efforts with minimal protection.

"Whether it translates directly, we don't know," Carey said.

Four dogs have already been tested for the study, with Bailey, 6, and Riley, 5, receiving recent tests. Both Bailey and Riley worked the night shift at the Pentagon, working through debris for 12 hours a day for 12 days.

After Bailey awoke from the screening, he looked content just to lie down. Riley waited calmly, even though she was next in line for the procedure.

"She's been training since I've had her as a puppy," said Eileen Roemer, supervisor special agent with the FBI. After their procedures are over, they'll go home with her to Fredericksburg. "Bailey's been training for three years."

Within a few minutes after the screening was completed, Carey reported Bailey's condition. Bailey is fine.

"Bailey's nose looks fine, everything's clean," said Carey, who received Gavin's diagnosis by phone. Gavin read the results from his office in Washington state.

These MRI screenings are among the 500-plus cases the Iams Pet Imaging Center has received since its opening last March. This study is the first that the Center has ever participated in.

"I think we'd like to do other things with service-type dogs," said Dr. Julie Smith, medical director for the Center.