The incidence of cancer appears to be increasing, especially in the dog population and is now one of the leading causes of death for companion animals. Almost half the animals over 10 years of age will die of cancer. We have increased capabilities to diagnose cancer and an increased ability to treat it. More and more pet owners are electing to treat their pet's cancer and we are here to help you make this difficult decision, if it becomes necessary.
The signs of cancer in your pet are very similar to the signs of cancer in people. Early detection is just as important in your pet. We try to catch it early. Some common signs you might notice in your pet are listed here:
- An abnormal swelling that continues to grow.
- Sores that won't heal.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Loss of appetite.
- Bleeding from the nose or mouth.
- Bad odor.
- Difficulty eating or swallowing.
- Reluctance to exercise or loss of stamina.
- Persistent lameness.
- Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating.
- Change of behavior.
If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, you should know that cancer is a disease caused by the growth of abnormal cells in the body. There are many forms of cancer, some spread throughout the body and others that remain localized. Your veterinarian at Old Dominion Animal Hospital will need to determine the type and extend of the cancer in your pet. It is important to gather as much information as possible to make a prognosis and treatment plan. Tests may include blood counts and profiles, urinalysis, radiographs, and a biopsy of the tumor. Cancer is hard to diagnose and hard to treat, but much progress has been made.
There are several types of therapy used to treat cancer in your pet. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are most common. Some treatments will be a combination of several therapies. It can be a long and difficult period when treating your pet for cancer. Many treatments require multiple trips to our animal hospital and it can be expensive. It is a team effort, and we cannot do it alone. You may need to be available to give your pet medications and treatments at home. Remember we are concerned with your pet's health and quality of life too, you don't have to make these decisions on your own. We are here to help. Cancer does not have to be a death sentence - we can all work together to give your pet the best life possible for as long as possible.
Surgery is the most common form of cancer therapy. The surgery may be exploratory so that your veterinarian can evaluate the extent of the tumor, it may involve taking samples of tumor tissue, it may involve removing the whole tumor, or it may involve taking away as much of the tumor as possible. Tissue or cancer cells, once removed by surgery are usually submitted for a biopsy to determine the diagnosis.
The best possible goal with surgery is to remove the entire tumor, thereby giving your pet a better chance for relief, but some cancers may be too large or involve organs where removal is not an option. In that case, after surgery, treatment with radiation or chemotherapy are often necessary.
When other forms of cancer treatment are needed, chemotherapy drugs are often used. This method of treatment is a good option when the cancer has spread to multiple sites in your pet's body and the tumors cannot be removed surgically. Chemotherapy is used to slow down the growth of cancer cells and may shrink large tumors.
Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking cells during their growth process. Unfortunately, the drugs don't know the difference between cancer cells and other cells in your pet's body. Your pet may have some side effects from the treatment, but most normal cells will continue to grow and repair themselves.
Pets experience fewer and less severe side effects from chemotherapy than humans. Their doses of medication are smaller and they don't usually get such a large combination of drugs at one time. If your pet is treated with drugs and we expect side effects, we will prescribe medications to help ease your pet's symptoms. Most pets recover from treatment within several days. The length of treatment with chemotherapy for your pet will vary according to the type and extent of the cancer disease.
Treatment of your pet's cancer with radiation requires referral to a specialty clinic or a College of Veterinary Medicine Hospital. Radiation may prove to be the most effective form of treatment for your pet's type of cancer or may be used in addition to surgery or chemotherapy. We are happy to provide you with information and referrals to particular hospitals, depending on the type and severity of your pet's disease. This decision on whether to pursue other treatments can be difficult and you need to consider your pet's medical condition, practical concerns such as repeat visits and your pet's temperament, as well as any financial issues. We are happy to discuss all your options with you to reach the right solution for you and your pet.
(Cancer text adapted from Abramson Cancer Center Oncology Links, University of Pennsylvania)