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Advice for sick or wounded dogs, cats, birds, other pets.

Pet Health:
Cancer in Dogs and Cats

 

Cancer is a very common problem amongst our pets seen today.  Cancer can occur almost anywhere there is tissue.  Bone, breast tissue, lymph nodes, skin, organs (spleen, liver, kidneys, stomach and intestines, heart, lungs, etc) can all be affected. 

Cancer can also appear in other areas not associated with any structure in particular, such as beneath the skin layer, or in the chest cavity, or the abdominal cavity.

Diagnosis of cancer can be done by x-rays, blood tests, and physical examination, but the most concrete way to diagnose cancer is from a sample of the affected tissue (biopsy). 

If a lump or tumor is detected, usually a tissue sample will confirm whether cancer exists or not.  Malignant is the term used for a cancerous growth or tumor, while benign implies the growth or tumor to be otherwise harmless to the patient.

Certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to developing cancer.  Boxers and Boston Terriers can develop cancer at very early ages (6 months to a year).  Typically cancer is considered an old age disease (over 8 years old or more).

Treatment is based upon the type of cancer diagnosed, as well as its location.  For most tumors, surgery is the only hope for cure.  If the tumor can be completely removed, and its behavior is not likely to spread far from the sight of removal, surgery can be quite successful.

Chemotherapy is reserved for those tumors where surgery is not feasible.  Widespread disease, or multiple affected sites, where the tumor is likely to continue to spread, lends a poorer prognosis for cure.  In these cases, control, or temporary remission (reduction of tumor size to normal limits) is the goal.  Chemotherapy involves the use of different chemicals or drugs designed to attack rapidly growing cells in the body.  Since cancerous cells are typically rapid growing cells, the chemotherapy agents will target these cells. 

Unfortunately, hair cells, intestinal cells, and blood cells, are also rapidly growing and dividing cells.  These cells can become affected as innocent bystanders.  In the dog and cat, these innocent bystanders usually only become mildly affected, thus the side effects of hair loss, vomiting and nausea with diarrhea, and anemia with low white blood cell counts, are minimal in our pets.

Only certain types of cancers will respond to chemotherapy.  Cancer of the lymph system (lymph nodes etc.) known as lymphoma or lymphosarcoma, is one of the more commonly seen cancers, and will typically respond well to chemotherapy.  Duration of response or remission varies with patients.  Typically, 8-12 month remission times are accomplished with this type of cancer.

Radiation therapy and cold therapy known as Cryotherapy are other techniques utilized against certain cancers in our pets.  This type of treatment is usually limited to larger hospitals or learning institutions (Veterinary training schools).  Your veterinarian should be able to refer you to an institution for appropriate treatment. As well, some veterinary practices are utilizing chemotherapy routinely. 

See Alternative Pet Care, Nutrition and Cancer for more information about nutrition and a Nutraceutical approach to cancer treatment.