Managing the Cancer Patient

A diagnosis of cancer in your pet is frightening and we understand that when presented with such unexpected news you might have questions on how to move forward.  Cancer is not always fatal. Some forms are treatable. Listen to all your options.

Here is a list of commonly asked questions and answers to lead you in the right direction.

What are the most common types of cancer in pets?

The most common cancers in dogs are mammary tumors. Fortunately, this type of cancer can be prevented by spaying at an early age. Some of the other common tumors are lymphoma, osteosarcoma, mast cell tumor, hemangiosarcoma and bladder cancer.

Are there any statistics available regarding numbers of dogs/cats that are diagnosed with cancer each year?

It is difficult to determine the exact incidence of cancer in dogs and cats because not all pets obtain medical care or even a definitive diagnosis for cancer.  It is estimated, however, that almost 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer. Approximately 1 in 4 dogs will, at some stage in their life, develop cancer.

Do most dogs and cats with cancer end up having surgery?

There are often multiple options for treating cancer.  Although more cancer is cured with surgery than any other treatment, it is important to understand that surgery is not always the best treatment for every cancer in every individual. Some tumors may respond better with one or a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy.

Are biopsies necessary?

A tumor should be sent for histopathology after removal to determine the diagnosis and whether the tumor is malignant or benign. A simple biopsy before complete removal can make a huge difference in whether or not a larger surgery is even necessary.  Also, a simple needle aspirate can often make a diagnosis. Histopathology helps answer questions like: Will this grow back? Will this tumor spread? Is there a cure? What additional treatment is necessary to control regrowth or spread of the tumor? How can I help make my pet feel better for as long as possible? What if I do nothing?

What resources exist that might help me further understand my pet’s illness?

The best resource for understanding your pet’s illness is your veterinarian.  He or she has access to the newest and most innovative information about the diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancer in animals.

There are many websites and books available that share information and experiences relating to cancer in dogs and cats.  Resources authored by board certified veterinary oncologists usually contain the most reliable information.

Does treatment require referral to a specialist?

Not every type of tumor requires a specialist for management.  At Animal Medical Clinic we are able to perform many of the surgical procedures necessary for cancer treatment, as well as administer many of the most common chemotherapy drugs.  However, we have a local veterinary oncologist who works with us.  Consultations with our local oncologist are great for gathering the latest information on prognosis and treatment options.  Getting an oncology consult is not a commitment to accept any specific treatment plan.

How can I help my pet through cancer related therapy?

Be an advocate for your pet and always feel comfortable seeking a second opinion. Define what “good quality of life” is for your pet early in the process. That way, it will be easier to assess if your pet starts to lose interest in things that it once enjoyed doing. Tell your pet’s veterinarian about any supplements that you are giving your pet that they might not know about.  It is important that your veterinarian know about all your pet is being given to ascertain whether there could be harmful interaction with other treatments that are being prescribed.

How do dogs/cats typically respond to treatment? What should I expect? Will they react like humans do to chemotherapy treatments?

The decisions surrounding the treatment of your pet for cancer can be very challenging.  Your veterinarian is trained to help you make the correct decisions and support you and your pet through a course of treatment. Response to treatment depends on the type of cancer that your pet has and what treatments are available for it. As there are many forms of cancer, there is no general rule on how well an individual patient will respond to therapy, but for some cancers treatment can be very successful.

Good quality of life during treatment is paramount for your pet and the side effects of chemotherapy are not comparable to those in humans.  Our goal is not necessarily to cure cancer, but to increase the number of quality days your pet has.  If we are seeing excess side effects, we will back off of treatment.

At each visit we may be calculating and adjusting doses of chemotherapy drugs and providing supportive care for any side effects.  Discussing strategies with you about how your pet is feeling and coping with its treatment are part of the special relationship that you and your pet’s veterinarian will share throughout the duration of its care.

Just as in human medicine, great advances are being made every year in the treatment and cure of cancer in pets.  Maintain a strong partnership with your veterinarian and together you can work to provide the best care for your pet.