Cancer in Pets

The outlook for Cancer in pets has never been better! At McKenzie Veterinary Services we have developed an approach to diagnosing and treating cancer that may surprise many pet owners. We view cancers as either curable, or as chronic degenerative diseases, just as we view other diseases such as chronic renal failure, diabetes, heart disease..etc. That means that we take a positive view of cancers and are willing to work with owners to help improve the lives of every patient we see living with cancer. Not all cancers are “bad” cancers, in fact many common cancers in pets are treatable and often curable or controllable through surgery, chemotherapy, other medications and diet. At McKenzie Veterinary Services we recommend a diagnostic work up to define the type of cancer and to stage a patient so we know what we are dealing with and are better able to discuss therapy options, whether it is surgery alone, surgery and chemotherapy, or chemotherapy alone or palliation. We always are mindful of what it is the owner hopes to achieve and what is the right thing for your pet. But we say there is no patient we cannot help in some way with cancer.

Cancer should not be a scarey thing, here’s why!

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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.

Our Cancer Creed

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Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to even consider any intervention, just allow a pet to live out its’ life and help them in a palliative way when necessary. At McKenzie Veterinary Services we strongly believe that:

1) There is no patient we diagnose with cancer whose life we cannot help improve in some way;

2) Owners need to be reminded that their pet has no idea that it has a cancer…thus they continue to go about their lives blissfully ignorant of their diagnosis…so they do not suffer any emotional concerns about their prognosis, only we know;

3) We should never knowingly let a pet suffer, that is to say “Keep them eating, Keep them out of pain and Reduce with medicines or other therapies, any symptoms that negatively affect their lives (e.g. control vomiting, nausea, control local damage by surgical debulking of a tumor)” and finally;

4) if all else fails and they just cannot go on, we can give them a peaceful and painless end”.

Dexter’s Story – a Lymphoma success story..how good luck, surgery, chemotherapy and great owners (with pet insurance) saved Dexter’s life!

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Dexter was a happy, healthy three year-old miniature Dachshund when he was brought in for an examination when the owners notice blood in his stool. At first it was assumed her had a colitis, a very common transient condition in dogs. But the bloody stool persisted and eventually a mass in his colon was detected on a digital rectal examination. We initially suspected a polyp and performed a surgery to remove a section of bowel with the mass and at the same time removed the lymph nodes which drained that area. Tissues were sent to the pathology lab and diagnosis of colonic lymphoma was given by the pathologist. Luckily the colon appeared to be the only area affected in his body.

Lymphoma is an all too common cancer in young to middle aged dogs, it is generally considered to be non-curable, systemic cancer affecting lymph node tissue in the body and while remissions are possible with chemotherapy, the overall prognosis is extremely poor. Dexter recovered quickly from the surgery and his owners were determined to give him the best chance and so they followed our recommendation to start chemotherapy. We chose a standard lymphoma chemotherapy program using four strong drugs. Dexter had side effects (vomiting and diarrhea) for only a few days during the entire year long course of chemotherapy. He rarely missed a meal or his walks or playtime with his brother.

Going through chemotherapy is like being on a long Greyhound bus ride with some bumps, stops and starts but few bad days…the journey seems endless at times, but it can be so rewarding for everyone involved. Six months after chemotherapy ended, during which time there we no outward signs of recurrence of the cancer, an abdominal ultrasound was performed and no evidence of recurrence in the colon or in the abdominal lymph nodes was found. Now a year later there are still no signs of recurrence and he is slated for a CT scan to give us the best method of being able examine the a abdominal organs to finally declare Dexter to be free of cancer.