ShareThis Page
Pittsburgh Zoo sea lion Zoey receives groundbreaking cancer treatment |

Pittsburgh Zoo sea lion Zoey receives groundbreaking cancer treatment


Pittsburgh Zoo’s 23-year-old sea lion, Zoey, is undergoing a groundbreaking type of radiation therapy for oral cancer that zookeepers discovered earlier this year, zoo officials said Wednesday.

Zookeepers became worried when they noticed Zoey’s appetite becoming erratic, spokeswoman Tracy Gray said in a statement. They spotted a red lesion on the roof of her mouth, which grew in size and severity until it was discovered to be an aggressive type of cancer – oral squamous cell carcinoma.

Specialists from the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty Emergency Center and PetCare Oncology, a national cancer care provider for pets, stepped in to help provide specialty treatment, Gray said.

The specialized radiation treatment, called stereotactic radiation, targets cancer with “unprecedented precision,” zoo officials said, meaning there is minimal damage to the surrounding tissue. This is particularly important when it involves delicate areas, such as the mouth or brain, officials said.

“We are oftentimes constrained by the size of the animal, the need for anesthesia to ensure safe handling for both the staff and the patient and the animal’s need to return quickly to their ground,” said Dr. Ginger Sturgeon, director of animal health at Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

In this case, that included Zoey’s size and her need to be in the water, Sturgeon said.

“With this cutting edge therapy, we were presented with a treatment that could satisfy all of those factors and give us a chance to save Zoey’s life,” she said.

Together with the veterinary specialists, Zoey’s tumor was mapped during an Aug. 21 CT scan and she received one treatment of sterotactic radiation, Gray said. Within a day, she was back in the water with the zoo’s other sea lions.

The precision of the treatment means animals generally need only one to three treatments, Gray said.

Zoey has returned to eating her full diet and is participating in training sessions “with gusto,” zoo officials said. She will continue taking medications as cancer treatment.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.