For most people cancer brings immediate strong feelings most often related to their own personal experiences they have had or with those of other family members or friends. In cats and dogs some of these comparisons are valid while others are not. However, the greatest similarity is that each and every case is different.
The most important thing in any cancer case is to get a diagnosis, the earlier the better. For visible lumps and bumps this often includes a needle biopsy, or aspirate. There are some tumors that are very easy for us to diagnose at the clinic setting, while others require submission to an outside lab for a more accurate reading. Other forms are found through imaging using x-rays or ultrasound. Along with these methods it’s important to do a comprehensive medical panel that includes a chemistry profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis. This allows us to assess the status of the your fur baby which will influence treatment options.
Once all this information has been gathered and assessed, surgery is often involved. For small skin tumors, this can be a fairly simple procedure. For other cancers this may involved aggressive abdominal or thoracic procedures as well as limb amputation for bone cancers. Surgical removal allows us to have histopathology performed to arrive at a definitive diagnosis that will help determine if further treatment is indicated.
For certain low grade tumors with clean margins, surgery may be curative. For other cancers chemotherapy may be needed to increase the life expectancy of the pet. For others, there are more advanced treatments including radiation and tumor vaccines.
This brings up the other “C” word, chemotherapy. Most people also usually have very definite ideas when that word is mentioned. This is where human medicine and veterinary medicine differ a great deal. The goal of chemotherapy in human medicine is to cure us or at least get as close to that as possible. Consequently, the dosing schedule for people is very aggressive and produces the often severe side-effects we have come to expect.
In veterinary medicine, our goal is to produce a remission, not a cure. Therefore, while there are side-effects, they are usually not as severe in dogs and cats as they are in us. Part of the reason for this is our pets have much shorter natural lives to begin with. What would be the point of severely diminishing their quality of life? Our goal is to extend quantity of life without sacrificing quality.
Diagnosing and treating a cancer case can be quite a journey. It is our goal to be with you and your pet every step of the way. Never be afraid to ask questions if you are not sure of something.