Pet Cancer Treatment & Therapy Options
How to Choose the Right Cancer Therapy for Your Pet
Many cancers, such as soft tissue sarcomas and some mast cell tumors, can be cured or controlled long-term with treatment. However, other forms of cancer may not be curable, and in these scenarios our goal is to prolong survival while maintaining or improving your pet’s quality of life.
In every case, there are two questions that must be addressed before the most appropriate therapy can be decided upon. First, what type of cancer is it? And second, has the cancer spread (metastasized) elsewhere in the body? After these questions are answered, we will help you understand the recommended options and work with you to develop the right course of action.
What Is Chemotherapy and How Is It Administered?
Chemotherapy refers to a variety of different medications that are used in dogs or cats that have aggressive cancers or cancers involving multiple sites in the body. We understand that making the choice to use chemotherapy to treat your pet’s cancer is a big decision, so our medical oncology team will spend time talking through all of the pros and cons with you. Lymphoma (lymphosarcoma) is a form cancer in dogs and cats that is very commonly treated with chemotherapy. Other common cancers for which chemotherapy is part of the treatment protocol include mast cell tumors, bladder tumors, osteosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma.
Our board-certified veterinary medical oncologists use the same chemotherapy drugs that are used to treat human cancer patients. However, we use lower doses and do not combine drugs as aggressively as what is done in human medicine. Administration of chemotherapy may be oral (by mouth) or by injection (through a catheter placed the day of therapy). The number of doses and types of drugs used depends upon the type of cancer being treated.
As with any drug, there are some potential side effects including stomach upset (manifested as decreased appetite, vomiting or diarrhea) and a drop in the white blood cell count (which can lead to a higher risk of infection).
We know it can be scary to consider chemotherapy for your beloved dog or cat, but keep in mind that most of the chemotherapy protocols designed for veterinary patients have only a 5 percent incidence of severe, life-threatening complications. Your input and comfort with the decision and treatment process is very important to us, so please let us know if you have any questions or concerns during the appointment.
When Is Surgery Recommended?
Surgery is recommended to remove an abnormal growth that is problematic (e.g., painful, inhibiting normal function, bleeding). If the tumor has spread, our board-certified small animal surgeons will also remove as much of the spread as is safely possible.
Some cancers such as osteosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma may not show up as having spread on X-rays or ultrasounds at distant sites. However, because these forms of cancer are known to be very aggressive, the treatment recommendations will still include surgery as well as medical therapy.
Many types of cat and dog tumors can be treated with radiation therapy. This may involve TomoTherapy or another cutting-edge approach such as stereotactic radiotherapy as our on-site radiation oncologists constantly innovate new technologies to more thoroughly and efficiently treat cancer.
All radiation therapy treatments are administered with the patient under general anesthesia, which is overseen by board-certified anesthesiologists. Our radiation oncology team also includes a medical physicist, a professional who ensures that each dose delivered is accurate. Whether the plan involves standard radiation therapy or advanced clinical trials, our team will surround you with the resources you need to manage your pet’s well-being throughout treatment and recovery.
What are the goals of radiation therapy?
Depending on the type and extent of the cancer, radiation is given with one of two intents: definitive (focused on curing the cancer) or palliative (focused on easing pain or discomfort). However, for certain types of cancer, a newer technique called stereotactic radiation can also be very effective.
As with almost any type of treatment, radiation therapy has potential side effects. Our radiation oncologists will carefully talk through all of the benefits and risks with you based on your pet’s history, a thorough physical examination and therapy goals.
What is TomoTherapy?
TomoTherapy is a radiotherapy delivery system designed to deliver all forms of radiation therapy. Unlike other radiation machines, TomoTherapy is built onto a CT scanner, which allows our team to perform daily CT scans to ensure the patient is accurately positioned as we treat the tumor. In a nutshell, this means we can attack the cancer while sparing healthy tissue.
See the steps involved in one day of TomoTherapy treatment here.