A puppy’s jaw spontaneously regrew after Cornell veterinarians removed a majority of his lower left mandible due to cancer. This phenomenon is not unique to children. It has also been observed in dogs.
Tyson, a 3-month-old French bulldog, was originally scheduled to see Cornell’s Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service for cleft palate surgery in the spring of 2023 when his primary veterinarian noted a cancerous tumor on his jaw.
“Tyson’s tumor was an oral papillary squamous cell carcinoma, which is a malignant cancer in dogs,” said dentistry and oral surgery resident Alexandra Wright, DVM ’18, who led Tyson’s care team. The second most common oral cancer in dogs is oral squamous cells carcinoma. This papillary subtype was previously reported in young puppies .”
Wright and co-authors Dr. Nadine F. Fiani, assistant clinical professor and chief of section, and Dr. Santiago Peralta associate professor in Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service, published a case report in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.
Wright explained to Tyson’s owners Melissa Forsythe, and Mike Lacagnina, of Rochester, New York that in order to remove the tumour, the majority of Tyson’s lower left jaw had to be taken out. This meant that Tyson would have to live without having a functioning lower jaw.
“We didn’t know if we wanted to put a puppy through all this. The prognosis at the time was uncertain,” Forsythe said, according to the Cornell Chronicle.
However, since Tyson’s CT scans were clear, meaning that the cancer hadn’t spread to other sites in the body, “we decided to give him a chance and continue with surgery. We had no idea his jaw would grow back.”
Although there had been anecdotal cases of portions of mandibles regenerating in young dogs, this did not seem likely for Tyson because of how much bone was removed.
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The case report indicates that he was able to exceed all expectations because a large amount of the periosteum (a thin membrane covering bone surfaces) had been preserved by surgery. Periosteum is a thin membrane that covers the surface of bones and contains nerves and blood vessels. It’s crucial for the growth and development of original mandibles.
“This was likely imperative to the regeneration of new bone,” Wright said. It also helped that the dog’s tumor was detected so early, though the precise reason for the jaw regrowth in Tyson’s case remains a history-making mystery.
“More has to be done to understand the likelihood of this occurring in other dogs and if a specific age range makes a difference,” Wright said, “but this case documents a very positive surgical outcome in a life-threatening situation.”
Tyson’s new mandible is nearly as functional as the original, though it is technically considered abnormal because it no longer has certain features. There are also no teeth and no mandibular channel, which is where the major nerves and blood vessels reside. It is also the same size as the bone on the left, preventing drifting. There is no cancer evidence in the newly regenerated bones.
After this surgery, Tyson underwent another to address his cleft palate.
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“He spent most of his puppyhood in an E-collar and was unable to chew or play with any toys,” Forsythe said. She would walk him around the house for stimulation. “He was the best patient.”
She still doesn’t give him hard food or hard toys, but he enjoys his water-soaked kibble and many soft toys.
Forsythe keeps Wright up to date on how full Tyson’s life has been after his time at Cornell. Recently, he graduated from obedience classes, passed the Canine Good Citizen exam, and participated in a holiday parade with dog trainer friends. Wright describes this as the most rewarding part of the case.
Forsythe hopes Tyson’s outcome will benefit other dogs with this diagnosis. Wright is in agreement: “His example now shows the possibility of complete regrowth when working with patients this young .”
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