ELISE M. ATKINSON, CVT
Cancer kills nearly 50% of our pets over the age of ten, estimates the American Veterinary Medical Association. David Ruslander, DVM, ACVIM, ACVR, and president of the Veterinary Cancer Society, offers insight into this disease.
Why are more of our pets getting cancer?
As the canine and feline population ages and health care is improved, improvements in diagnosis and treatment give the impression of increased cancer incidence in dogs and cats, but there is not a lot of data to support this perceived observation.
What tests or procedures do you use to screen for cancer?
True cancer screening programs have not been consistently evaluated in canine or feline patients. Routine blood work and possibly radiographs [X-rays] can be used to screen for early cancers before patients become clinical [show symptoms]. These tests can also be used to monitor for heart, kidney, and liver disease. Routine dental exams and cleanings have facilitated prompt diagnosis and referral of patients with oral cancer.
When is the right time to have those lumps and bumps checked out?
Any lump should be evaluated. Although the vast majority of these lesions are totally benign sebaceous cysts, papillomas, or lipomas, there is little way for an owner to distinguish these from more sinister malignant tumors without an aspiration or biopsy.
If the tumor is benign, why should I worry about it?
Even some of the benign tumors may need to be removed if they become infected or ulcerated or if they are causing problems for the patient. Careful observation can be considered for many benign tumors, but this is not a good approach for malignancies.
Should I take my dog to a cancer specialist?
The diagnosis of cancer in pets will obviously cause concern, and it is critical to receive accurate and current information. Consultation with a veterinarian who is board certified in either medical oncology or radiation oncology is recommended for all but the most basic oncology patients. Oncologists are uniquely suited to discuss prognosis, treatment options, and expected outcomes and may also be able to provide access to clinical trials.
How much time will treatment give my pet?
Remember, cancer is not one disease but a wide array of many, all with different [treatment] approaches and options. Some cancers, such as mast cell tumors and soft tissue sarcomas, can be cured either with surgery alone or in combination with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Patients may live several years of good quality life with periodic chemotherapy. The balance between quality and quantity of life is of paramount importance and constantly in the minds of the doctor and owner.
Dr. Ruslander practices at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas. He is board-certified in radiation oncology and medical oncology.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Pet
Identifying cancer early and treating it immediately greatly increase the chance of a full recovery. Here are a few tips for keeping your pet in good health and detecting subtle signs of illness.
- Don’t smoke around your pet
- Spay or neuter your pet early
- Feed high-quality, nutritious food
- Keep your pet at a healthy weight
- Go green — use nontoxic cleaners when possible
- Make a map of lumps and growths and note any changes in size or appearance
- When brushing your pet’s teeth, check for oral tumors
- Watch for changes in eating and bowel habits
- Schedule regular veterinary exams
Pet Owner’s Guide to Cancer [video]
The Ten Warning Signs of Cancer
Morris Animal Foundation’s Canine Cancer Campaign
Dog Breeds Most Susceptible to Cancer
Cornell University Hospital for Animals
The CSU Animal Cancer Center
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 5, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.