Being proactive is the key to success in treating cancer. Even if an outright cure isn’t possible, finding things early on can mean more precious time with loved ones. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? For our pets that’s certainly the case. Quality over quantity is even more important when your pet doesn’t understand the stakes as well as you. Here are some things you can do:
Routine Physical Examination
Annual physical examination is important for all pets and semi-annual screening is crucial for all geriatric patients. It’s when we find most visible cancers. But tumors can be internal too, so you veterinarian will carefully palpate (feel) the abdomen to screen for any masses.
Routine Blood Work
As with physical exams, annual blood testing is important for all pets. Regular lab work can sometimes, but not always, detect cancer in the early stages before your pet gets sick. Apart from some blood cancers, which can cause abnormal levels of certain white blood cells (detectable in a Complete Blood Count), a high calcium level (in a blood chemistry screen) can also point to certain types of cancers. Severe anemias can also indirectly lead to cancer diagnoses, as can elevated liver enzymes, for example. Unfortunately, many cancers are not detectable via routine laboratory screening.
It’s hard to look in your pets’ mouth, and getting a really good look is even harder. When we perform routine dental cleanings, however, the anesthesia allows us to perform a complete oral examination, including under the tongue and way in the back.
At Home Checks
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be checking your pet on a regular basis for any sign of lumps, bumps, or other lesions. Check them out at least once a month. If you find any lump greater than the size of a marble, we should check it out. Even smaller lesions in sensitive area like the eyelids should be evaluated.
“Why wait? Aspirate!”
Most superficial mass larger than a marble should be aspirated (probed with a needle) to identify any unusual cells it may contain.
Any pet, especially senior ones, that have a persistent cough, labored breathing or any other change in their respiratory rate or effort should have chest x-rays done to rule out cancer.
If an abdominal mass is suspected, ultrasound is usually the best way to detect and evaluate it. We can often use the ultrasound to guide a needle biopsy for a relatively non-invasive way of diagnosing the problem.
The key to positive outcomes is early detection and treatment, so don’t neglect your pet’s annual preventive care exams and lab work. Another measure worth considering is pet health insurance. While you can’t predict when your pet is going to get sick or injured, insurance can help you protect yourself from expensive veterinary bills.