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Orangutan’s Chemotherapy Treatment for Cancer Ends

by Suzette Laboy
Wednesday Nov 14, 2012
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MIAMI - Peanut, an 8-year-old orangutan with cancer and one of the star attractions at Miami’s Jungle Island, no longer needs chemotherapy, her medical team announced Tuesday.

Peanut had been undergoing chemotherapy since August, following a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After three courses of combination chemo-immunotherapy, her doctors decided it was time to wrap up her treatments for the aggressive lymphoma.

Although Peanut was not the first great ape to be treated for cancer like a human, experts said it is not common to use chemotherapy among orangutans.

Dr. Jason Chatfield, curator and staff veterinarian for Jungle Island, said the stress of "multiple immobilizations" for the treatment was a factor in a decision to end her chemotherapy. He added she received an adequate amount of chemotherapy.

"What we do know is that without this chemotherapy, Peanut would not survive," Chatfield said.

But he cautioned that imaging and scans used to gauge the effectiveness of chemotherapy in humans isn’t available in Peanut’s case, making it "next to impossible" to tell how effective the treatment was for the orangutan.

Now her medical team will closely monitor Peanut’s daily progress and check for signs of relapse. And as part of her annual medical exam, doctors will also include diagnostic imaging such as a CT scan, radiology and ultra sound.

Peanut and her fraternal twin, Pumpkin, were born in captivity. They came to Jungle Island when they were 6 months old. The youngest of six orangutans there, the two have been a hit with park visitors, using sign language and an iPad to communicate with their trainers. The park has posted regular updates of Peanut’s treatments on its main web page and on Facebook.

Peanut was diagnosed after her veterinary team found she had an intestinal obstruction and further testing revealed the cancer. Pumpkin has not been diagnosed with the disease.

The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, along with UM’s Division of Comparative Pathology, which specializes in wildlife, confirmed the diagnosis.

Doctors chose a plan for treatment that has been most effective in humans.

"Peanut has handled this process with remarkable strength and fortitude," Chatfield said. "We have learned a great deal in the process and endeavored to provide Peanut with state-of-the-art care and the best possible chance at long term survival."

Peanut and her twin, Pumpkin, will celebrate their birthday on Dec. 2 with orangutan-friendly cakes. The park also will serve cake to guests and hand out lime green ribbons for lymphoma awareness. A portion of the day’s admission also will be donated to the cancer center involved in the ape’s treatment.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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