Juno the Asian elephant recovering after breast cancer surgery

El Paso News

Photo courtesy of El Paso Zoo.

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The El Paso Zoo reported that its 54-year-old Asian elephant, Juno, is recovering after having surgery Saturday to remove a malignant mass in her right mammary gland.

“Thanks to a great effort by our internal team, her keepers and some volunteer friends from the community. Juno’s surgery went better than we expected,” said El Paso Zoo Chief Veterinarian Dr. Vikki Milne. “She is awake walking around on her own and hungry, which are all good signs!”

Zoo staff will continue to monitor her throughout the coming weeks to make sure everything is healing properly. “Juno is a fighter and, for the last five years, she has been fighting this awful cancer,” said El Paso Zoo Director Joe Montisano. “Today was no exception — she was under anesthesia for 2.5 hours, we reversed her, and she stood up like a champ. Juno still has a long road to recovery in front of her, but she is strong and will continue to get better every day.”

Juno was being treated for breast cancer, which is rare, Zoo officials said. This is the only currently known case of breast cancer in an elephant — elephants are generally not diagnosed with cancer.

She received her first three rounds of electro-chemotherapy in 2017 and 2018. The mass responded to these treatments and decreased in size.

In October 2019, December 2019 and February 2020, Juno was placed under general anesthesia to perform additional electro-chemotherapy treatments, along with a localized gene therapy treatment to enhance her immune system. During the procedures, the tumor was infused with a chemotherapy drug and the gene therapy, then treated with a small electric pulse to drive the agents into the cancer cells.

These treatments carried out over the last four years, kept the tumor small and added to Juno’s quality of life.

The tumor, however, had stopped responding to the last treatment and had become more aggressive. According to veterinary experts, surgical removal of the mass or hospice care and eventual euthanasia were the only options available.

Staff had elected to attempt surgical removal in a final effort to treat the cancer and prolong Juno’s life.

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