Leaping lizards! Dexter makes medical history

SPECIAL PATIENT: RSPCA wildlife vet nurse Madeline Rienecker with bearded dragon Dexter who will undergo radiation treatment to stop a tumour growing above his right eye.
SPECIAL PATIENT: RSPCA wildlife vet nurse Madeline Rienecker with bearded dragon Dexter who will undergo radiation treatment to stop a tumour growing above his right eye. David Nielsen

AN IPSWICH lizard with cancer will become the first reptile in Australia to undergo specialised radiation treatment on Monday.

Dexter, a six-year-old bearded dragon, was surrendered to RSPCA at Wacol when staff noticed a small lesion on its eyeball rapidly grow into a tumour.

Wildlife veterinarian Bonny Cumming knew the situation was dangerous. She said the lizard would likely lose its eye if it went under the knife to have the tumour removed.

"There is not enough bare skin to close it so we'd have to remove the whole eye orbit," Dr Cumming said.

"We approached Brisbane Veterinary Specialist Centre to see if they thought radiation treatment could help and they said it was definitely worth a try. They offered to donate their services and Dexter goes in for the first of 10 daily treatments on Monday."

BVSC founder and director Dr Rod Straw said the course would usually cost a pet-owner $4000.

"People might think all that for a lizard, but our research is completely translational - we find out more on curing human cancers through patients like Dexter," Dr Straw said.

"So we'll use external beam radiation therapy delivered by a linear accelerator. The lizard will have a general anesthetic in his veins and an oxygen tube in his lungs. The procedure takes about 15 minutes and I'm confident he'll make a full recovery."

First treatment is 10.30am at BVSC at Albany Creek.


  • Radiation therapy is used on the tumour because of its ability to control cell growth.
  • Ionising radiation works by damaging the DNA of exposed tissue.
  • Shaped radiation beams are aimed from several angles to intersect it.

Topics:  radiation therapy, rspca

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