One in four dogs will develop cancer this year. The diagnosis can be devastating, especially for those with one of its most aggressive forms—hemangiosarcoma—that kills in less than 90 days. But now, the key to a longer life could be held in an ancient Chinese mushroom more than 2,000 years old. Also, it may not be just for man’s best friend, but man himself could benefit.

Life without their dog Max would be unimaginable for the Walter family.

“He’s very sweet. He’s a good, good buddy,” Christy Walter told Ivanhoe.

So, when Max was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer of the spleen known as hemangiosarcoma, it was hard.

Max’s vet shared the grim news.

“This is how long he has. He has one to two months. There’s a trial you can try,” Christy said.

Max enrolled in a new clinical trial at Penn Vet that’s testing an ancient Chinese mushroom.

“This could be really, really major,” Dr. Dorothy Cimino-Brown, Professor of Surgery University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told Ivanhoe.

Researchers found dogs treated with a compound from the Yun Zhi mushroom, known as PSP, had the longest survival times ever reported for dogs with the deadly disease; going from a maximum two-months with no treatment, to several dogs living over a year with only the mushroom as a treatment.

“What we saw was so unexpected and so dramatic and the potential implications of it are huge,” Dr. Dorothy Cimino-Brown said.

That includes helping humans fight cancer. For now, the Walter’s are thankful for their extra time with Max.

“And it’s good time, quality time. He’s not just lying there sick,” Christy explained.

Researchers were so surprised with the results of the first study that they actually went back and looked at the biopsies to make sure the dogs had this deadly spleen cancer to begin with.

There are products with PSP on the market for human and animal consumption, but researchers caution since they are supplements; they are not regulated by the FDA.


BACKGROUND: Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is an extremely aggressive type of cancer which affects mostly dogs, but sometimes cats. The cancer’s origins are in blood vessels; this means tumors can be present anywhere in the body blood vessels are present. The most common place for the cancer to grow is in the spleen, although it can also be seen in the heart, liver, muscles, lungs, brain, or kidneys. The disease generally comes on later in life, the average onset being around 9 or 10 years. German shepherds are the breed most commonly diagnosed with HSA, but other large breeds like Golden retrievers or Labrador retrievers are also commonly diagnosed. (Source:   

SYMPTOMS: Because HSA is so aggressive, by the time symptoms begin to show, the cancer is in its advanced stages and very little can be done. These are some of the symptoms your dog might show:


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at University of Pennsylvania are testing whether a compound in an ancient Chinese mushroom can help dogs beat HSA. The mushroom, called Yun Zhi, has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Researchers isolated a compound called polysaccharopeptide, or PSP, and began giving it to dogs with advanced HSA. The dogs given the compound daily showed the longest times ever recorded for advanced HSA. Some dogs were able to live more than a year on simply the compound. The next step is testing whether the compound has similar effects in humans (Source:



Dr. Dorothy Cimino Brown, Professor of Surgery at University Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Ryan Veterinary Hospital, talks about a possible new treatment for cancer in dogs

Where did the idea come from to actually give these mushrooms to canine?

Dr. Cimino-Brown: I have an interest in complementary and alternative therapies in dogs. Dogs don’t have the psychological overlay which causes problems in studying complementary therapies in people. People have a preconception of how they’re going to do or not do based on these therapies, and we don’t have that in dogs. Because I had this history of working in this area and I was contacted by a collaborator in China who feels very strongly about the potential efficacy of a compound in these mushrooms. And so we started feeling out what kind of study would look at Eastern medicine in a Western science paradigm, which is where the intersection needs to happen. How we would we do that?