Medical Oncology

We understand that having a pet diagnosed with cancer can be emotionally draining and difficult to process. Our veterinarians are able to help our pet cancer patients and their owners better understand their diagnosis and choose a treatment plan that best works for them. Whether you opt for treatment by our veterinarians or referral to a specialist,  we will discuss all benefits and potential side effects associated with treatment. Our goal is to provide you with valuable information, provide answers to all of your treatment questions, and help guide you through the decision making process.

The following signs are possible indications of cancer: 

  • Change in shape, size, or texture of existing lumps in pet skin
  • Constant drooling, foul odor from the mouth, reluctance to chew or swallow
  • Vomiting or Diarrhea
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Passing blood in urine or stool
  • Frequent runny nose with or without blood in it
  • Lethargy beyond normal levels, excessive unexplained weight loss
  • Noticeable change in stride – limping or sudden change in posture, swelling of limbs or joints
  • Noticeable change in appetite or water consumption
  • Changes in behavior
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal swelling

If you notice one or several of these in your pet, we advise you to schedule an appointment immediately to assess the cause.

Common types of pet cancer

Abdominal Cancer– Abdominal cancer in pets can take many forms.  All organs in the abdomen may be involved, including the liver, spleen, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, bladder and reproductive organs.   During annual pet exams, we assess the abdominal organs through palpation. This may be more difficult in obese animals, so keeping your pet at a healthy body weight provides an advantage here. Any abnormalities that are noted can be assessed more intensely with radiology or ultrasonography.  If our veterinarian believes that a tumor in the abdomen can be surgically removed, samples of it can be submitted to a pathologist for final diagnosis.  Once a diagnosis is made, additional treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy can be considered.

Bone Cancer – Bone cancer most commonly occurs in larger breed dogs, but can affect smaller dogs and cats as well. Osteosarcoma, the most common form of bone cancer in pets, accounts for nearly all cases. Because it is a particularly aggressive disease, quick diagnosis and treatment planning are critical. If you notice a persistent limp, swelling of a limb or joint, or any other areas of pain, it is time to see the veterinarian.  Early detection and treatment are still considered palliative for most forms of bone cancer since the goal of treatment is to relieve pain and preserve quality of life.

Blood and Lymph Node Cancer – Canine lymphoma is a very common cancer in dogs.  Although there are other causes of multiple swollen lymph nodes, this is the most common diagnosis associated with this symptom.  Luckily, this type of cancer is very responsive to chemotherapy is many patients. Cats that are infected with the feline leukemia virus are predisposed to the development of leukemia and lymphoma.  Unfortunately, since these cancers develop during the later stages of this viral infection, treatment is not usually very successful.  Other types of cells in the blood and lymph systems that can become cancerous include red blood cells, plasma cells and bone marrow cells.  The symptoms seen with these cancers can be variable.  Diagnosis of all cancers of the blood and lymph systems require examination of biopsies or blood samples by a pathologist.

Skin Cancer – There are several types of pet skin cancer. Some of these cancers are relatively benign, but some can have aggressive, malignant behavior.  The most important thing a pet parent can do to make sure lumps and bumps are caught early is check your pets skin at least once a month.  Make a note of any new lumps you find.  Keep track of those lumps for changes in size, shape, and character.  If they begin to change rapidly its time to have it checked by a veterinarian. To examine the tumor, our veterinarians generally collect a sample of cells from the abnormal lesion for examination under the microscope.  If the cells we observe are of concern, then surgical removal so the lump can be examined by a pathologist is the next step.  Once a diagnosis is received from the pathologist, additional therapy can be pursued if warranted.  When treated quickly, the majority of skin cancers in pets can be cured with surgical removal.  Delay in treatment that makes complete surgical removal impossible could necessitate additional treatment with chemotherapy, radiation or more radical surgery like limb amputation.

What pet cancer therapies are available?

Many cancers in pets can be controlled with close veterinary care, and the side effects of treatment are usually minimal. Pet cancer treatment options include chemotherapy and supplements, radiation, and/or surgery. Treatment plans vary depending on what type of cancer a pet is diagnosed with, as well as the invasiveness of the cancer. Sometimes one therapy is used alone. Other times, multiple treatments are combined to attack the cancer in a multidimensional approach. The veterinarian will formulate a specific treatment plan for your pet based on their particular cancer and its development. Just like in humans, early detection and diagnosis of cancer generally makes treatment much more effective.  Unfortunately, because animals are so good at masking physical illness, early detection is sometimes difficult.  This underscores the importance of at least yearly physical examinations of your pet by a veterinarian since they are trained to look for the symptoms of cancer your pet may be hiding.  Even if a complete cure of your pets cancer is not possible, therapy may be instituted to keep your pet as comfortable as possible, with the hope of prolonging life. 

If you have any questions about pet medical oncology or therapy, please contact our office.

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