UNDATED (WJRT) -
(07/10/14) - More than 13,000 children will be diagnosed with cancer each year.
Many of these kids have to endure painful treatments that trigger stress, anxiety and depression.
Now, researchers are studying a drug-free and inexpensive way to help them feel better.
Man's best friend is lending a paw to sick kids, but can animals really help kids with cancer feel better?
Bryce Greenwell is no stranger to tests or hospitals. He has leukemia and will undergo treatments for the next three years or more.
"I don't know how he does it, you know, he's…he's amazing," said Jenny Greenwell, Bryce's mom.
But a little pup, Swoosh, is making Bryce's hospital visits much more bearable.
"It gives us something to talk about. He gets excited to come see Swoosh," Jenny said.
Bryce and Swoosh are participating in a study to determine if dogs can help pediatric cancer patients.
Studies in adult patients have shown interaction with man's best friend can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and improve lung function. This is the first pilot study to test animal therapy in kids with cancer.
The dogs spend about 15 minutes with patients before treatments. The kids have their pulse and blood pressure checked before and after - along with a questionnaire.
The dogs even have their saliva checked to determine if they experience stress, but Swoosh's owner, Michelle Thompson, says she doesn't think that's the case.
"He loves to work. He loves to get his vest on, and he's excited to go," she said.
Researchers at five sites across the country will enroll a total of 120 families for this study. They are still collecting data and cannot report on results, but Mary Jo Gilmer, PhD, Vanderbilt Univ. School of Nursing, says they have noticed children who interact with the dogs require less anti-anxiety meds than they did before the pet therapy.