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.
HOW TO CHOOSE the Right Cancer Therapy FOR YOUR PET
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.
Treatment options for veterinary patients with cancer
While the Oncology Service at UW Veterinary Care is world-renowned for making clinical advances in the treatment of cats and dogs with cancer, we also offer routine and commonly utilized treatment options such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Most of our approaches, including chemotherapy, are delivered on an outpatient basis in an effort to interrupt your beloved companion's routines as little as possible. Their 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.
What is chemotherapy and how is it administered?
Chemotherapy is 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% 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 commonly 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.
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, VMD, DACVR (Radiology, Radiation Oncology)
- Xuan Pan, VMD, PhD, DACVIM (Oncology)
- MacKenzie Pellin, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), DACVR (Radiation 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
- Angela Dixon, CVT
- Caroline Randy, CVT
- Jean Tullis, CVT