Cancer is one of the most common problems in our companion animals. While there are hundreds of different types of animal cancers, we understand that the one you care about most is the one that your pet is facing. UW Veterinary Care’s small animal oncology specialists are here to support you and your pet on this journey, bringing together the best cancer expertise and most effective treatments.
This comprehensive approach to the management and treatment of your pet’s cancer enables both medical oncology and radiation oncology clinicians to work closely with each other, as well as with surgeons, pathologists and radiologists, to quickly and efficiently determine the best options for each patient. The result often involves a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and/or surgery.
Choosing the Right Cancer Therapy
Our cat and dog cancer treatments range from standard surgical approaches and chemotherapy to radiation and innovative clinical trials. 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.
Treating Your Pet’s Cancer with Medical Therapy or Surgery
The Oncology Service at UW Veterinary Care is world-renowned for making clinical advances in the medical treatment of cats and dogs with cancer. Most of our approaches, including chemotherapy, are delivered on an outpatient basis in an effort to interrupt our patients’ routines as little as possible. Your companion’s quality of life is always our highest priority, so our team will ensure that you and your animal are comfortable every step of the way.
Chemotherapy is the most common form of medical therapy used in patients 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.
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 or by injection (through a catheter placed the day of therapy).
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% incidence of severe, life-threatening complications.
Surgery is commonly recommended to remove an abnormal growth that is problematic (e.g., painful, inhibiting normal function, bleeding). If the tumor has spread, our 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.
Treating Your Pet’s Cancer with Radiation Therapy
Many types of cat and dog tumors can be treated with radiation therapy. This may involve TomoTherapy or another cutting-edge approach as our 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. 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.
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.
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.
Not only is UW Veterinary Care the first of only two veterinary medical hospitals in the world to offer TomoTherapy as a treatment option for your pet, but the University of Wisconsin–Madison is also where TomoTherapy was developed for treatment of human cancers. In fact, our successful clinical trials led to widespread use of TomoTherapy in human medicine with more than 500 units installed in human hospitals worldwide.
See the steps involved in one day of TomoTherapy treatment here.
UW Veterinary Care Oncology Team
- Neil Christensen, BVSc, DACVR-RO, Clinical Assistant Professor
- Ruthanne Chun, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
- Lisa Forrest, DVM, DACVR (Radiology, Radiation Oncology)
- Xuan Pan, VMD, PhD, DACVIM (Oncology)
- MacKenzie Pellin, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
- Michelle Turek, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), DACVR (Radiation Oncology)
- David Vail, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
- Ricardo Fernandez, DVM
- Katelyn Marlowe, DVM
- Audrey Stevens, DVM
- Kathleen Tsimbas, DVM
- Nathaniel Van Asselt, DVM
- Nathaniel Vos, DVM, MPH
- Elizabeth Wood, DVM
- Changseok Kim, DVM
- Nicole Albert, CVT, Supervisor
- Amanda Anderson, CVT
- Jennifer Borgen, CVT
- Joan Capelle, CVT
- Angela Dixon, CVT
- Sierra Knobles, CVT
- Caroline Randy, CVT
- Jean Tullis, CVT