Oncology is the study of cancer. There have been great improvements in the treatment of many forms of cancer in pets. For example, 20 years ago the diagnosis of bone cancer in young dogs (and in young humans) was generally considered a death sentence, now with surgery and chemotherapy it is possible to affect a cure for this disease. Breakthroughs are being made every year in veterinary oncology.
We feel is so important to start with obtaining a accurate diagnosis and to stage a patient (meaning check for spread to target organs if the cancer is the type which can metastasize). Even those skin bumps and lumps which are common in dogs as they age should be investigated, they are not always benign and it is not really possible to tell what they are by feeling or looking at them. A fine needle aspirate and cytology can help greatly in knowing if you need to be concerns or can monitor such masses.
With this information, we can help owners make decisions and recommend what may be the best available treatment, but we also recognize that every patient is different and that we have to very carefully craft an appropriate plan for treatment for that patient. We take a very holistic approach, starting with the lifestyle of the pet, its’ age and general health, the prognosis for that type of cancer with or without treatment, the financial and emotional burden to the owner and the concerns for quality of life of the pet in any treatment plan. We can also refer patients with rare or complex cancer treatments to specialists in Victoria, Vancouver or Washington State.
The vast majority of pets with cancers have benign cancers which if addressed early can be cured with surgery…the key is finding them early. Thus, the importance of regular physical exams cannot be overstated. There are many cancers in veterinary medicine for which chemotherapy is helpful. These include lymphoma, mast cell tumors, transmissible venereal tumors, bladder cancers, and bone cancers. Radiation therapy may also help cure or improve the lives of animals living with certain other types of cancer, but it is currently only available locally in Washington State. Radio-nucleotides (e.g. Iodine 131) can cure feline thyroid cancers and there is now a vaccine available to treat melanomas in dogs. In many cases between surgery, chemotherapy and other modalities, the life of a pet can often be extended many years, when cancers are detected early and treated accordingly.
We have many years of experience in performing cancer surgeries and chemotherapy on pets. It can be moderately expensive and challenging for everyone to manage a dog or cat undergoing surgery or chemotherapy, but often is a very rewarding experience at the same time. And it may surprise you to know that 80% of pets who go through chemotherapy have no deleterious side effects! It is also not a strictly controlled event, if not tolerated, a chemotherapy program can always be modified or stopped. Our goal is to make you pet feel well, not sicker by any cancer treatments we recommend.
We also emphasize the role that good nutrition may play as an adjunct to other therapies. There are some dietary supplements which may help slow down cancer growth, such as omega-3 fatty acids…fish oils. Many other complementary diet supplements have been used in veterinary medicine, including curcumin and medicinal marijuana. More is being learned every day and we hope one day, there will be individual specifically designed therapies in pets.