Veterinary Oncology for Small Animals
Surgery is often the most important first step in treating cancer in dogs and cats. Not only does it often remove the tumor and therefore improve or eliminate clinical signs associated with the tumor, but it also allows us to diagnose exactly what type of cancer is present. Depending on the size of the tumor and the location on the body, it may not be possible to remove the entire tumor, and therefore additional therapy may be indicated following surgery to prevent the tumor from regrowing. Depending on what type of cancer is diagnosed, removal of the tumor may result in complete control of the cancer. However, some tumors will require additional therapy in addition to surgery (such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy).
Chemotherapy is the use of medicines or drugs to treat cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are either injected or taken by mouth. Chemotherapy may cause side effects in dogs and cats, but these effects are typically much less severe than what humans experience when they are treated with chemotherapy. The number and frequency of chemotherapy treatments administered varies depending on the type of cancer that is diagnosed and your pet’s response to therapy.
Radiation therapy involves the use of a linear accelerator or other machine to deliver radiation to a very specific location on the body. Unlike chemotherapy, radiation therapy does not affect the entire body and therefore side effects are generally limited only to the area that is treated. Radiation treatments may be administered daily for as many as 20 treatments, or may be given less frequently depending on the type of cancer that is being treated. Dogs and cats must be placed under anesthesia for a brief amount of time for each treatment in order to ensure they are placed in an identical position each time.
The melanoma vaccine is a relatively new cancer therapy that was developed the use in dogs diagnosed with melanoma (oral cavity, skin, or toenail beds are the most common sites for this tumor). This vaccine is administered as a treatment, not a preventative, and stimulates your dog’s own immune response to combat the tumor. The melanoma vaccine causes no adverse side effects in treated patients.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
In addition to traditional cancer therapies such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, many patients will benefit from the use of complementary and alternative therapies. The use of herbal medicine, acupuncture, or other supplements may help boost the immune system and allow your pet to more effectively respond to traditional therapy, and can also help combat potential side effects associated with these treatments. Acupuncture is often a great addition to the treatment protocol for any type of pain associated with certain tumors.