December 2, 2019
A cancer diagnosis can be devastating for a pet owner. At Virginia Veterinary Centers, we understand the emotions, concerns, and fear you may be experiencing as you worry about your pet’s future. The oncology department at our Richmond location can guide you through the next steps as you embark on this journey with your beloved companion.
Diagnosing and Staging Cancer in Pets
Whether your family veterinarian has diagnosed cancer or suspects your pet may have cancer, our board-certified veterinary oncologist will work with her to perform a thorough diagnostic workup to evaluate your pet’s overall health status. If cancer is present, we will use the information to determine how advanced the cancer is, and may perform diagnostic testing in conjunction with your veterinarian, including:
- Complete blood count (CBC) — A CBC measures your pet’s various blood cell numbers. Alterations in cell numbers can indicate infection, inflammation, anemia, clotting disorders, and other abnormalities that can be associated with cancer.
- Blood chemistry testing — Many different blood components can be measured to evaluate your pet’s organ function. Cancer can originate from, or spread to, various body organs, and blood chemistry abnormalities can help our oncologist determine which organs may be affected.
- Cytology — Cellular samples from abnormal tissue can be examined microscopically to identify characteristics consistent with cancer.
- Radiographs — Soft-tissue and bony tumors can often be detected on radiographs (X-rays). Unfortunately, cancer often metastasizes, or spreads, to the lungs, and radiographs are taken to evaluate the lungs for secondary lesions.
- Ultrasound — Ultrasound provides a more detailed view of body structures than radiographs, shows real-time movement, and can be used to guide a needle to obtain cell samples from a mass, or abnormal fluid for analysis.
- Computed tomography (CT) — CT can provide images of body parts if radiographs cannot achieve adequate detail. If cancer affects any part of the head or face, for example, a CT scan will often generate the best diagnostic image.
Cancer Treatment Options for Pets
A cancer diagnosis may not mean that time with your beloved pet will be cut short. Many advanced treatments are now available for pets that can slow cancer’s growth, or sometimes offer a cure. Each pet’s cancer is different, and a combination of treatments are often used that may include:
- Surgery — Complete surgical removal of some cancerous tumors may be possible, whereas other tumors may be partially removed, and radiation or chemotherapy used to slow the remaining tissue growth. Our board-certified veterinary surgeons work closely with our oncology department to provide the best surgical options for your pet.
- Chemotherapy — Chemotherapy, which involves treating cancer with medication, is part of most cancer treatment plans. Chemotherapy may be used after surgical resection of a tumor to kill cells that may have spread, or to treat cancer that cannot be surgically removed. Chemotherapy medications are often administered intravenously during office visits, although some forms can be administered orally in the comfort of your home. Human chemotherapy treatments are known for their debilitating side effects, but veterinary chemotherapy uses drug doses that typically cause few, if any, side effects.
- Radiation — Radiation can be used to shrink tumors before surgical removal, or to slow cancer growth when resection is not possible. Radiation is administered as a targeted beam focused on cancerous tissue to hopefully spare nearby normal tissue. Treatments are administered in small, daily doses for several weeks to minimize side effects.
- Immunotherapy — Some cancers can be treated by stimulating your pet’s immune system to fight off the offending cells. The canine melanoma vaccine, for example, can be administered as part of a treatment plan for dogs with oral melanoma.
- Palliative care — Not all cancers can be cured, and palliative care focuses on increasing your pet’s comfort and quality of life during her remaining time. We can often help make the last weeks or months with your pet peaceful and meaningful by providing pain control, comfort measures, and medications to alleviate cancer’s effects.
If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, we are here to help you understand the different treatment options and assist you in making the best decisions for your companion. Contact us with questions about your pet’s cancer diagnosis, or to schedule an appointment with our oncology department.