Veterinary Cancer Awareness: Education and state-of-the art diagnostics help to prevent, treat, and cure pet cancers.
Sadly, cancer is the leading killer of pet dogs and cats in the United States. Like human cancers, the disease is caused by the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells on or within the body. Luckily though many cancers are treatable and in many cases curable, with early detection and specialized care.1
At LVH, we believe consistent examinations (yearly or biannually, depending on the pet’s age) and our diagnostic tools are the best ways for prevention or early detection of cancers. While young pets can get cancers, they are generally seen in our older canine and feline populations. Because of this, we recommend biannual exams once our patients turn seven years old.
We also use state-of-the-art diagnostics to screen for any abnormalities. All new lumps, or an existing lump that has changed, should be examined. It is impossible to tell if a lump is a lipoma (a benign, fat tumor) just by feeling it. Just because it feels “soft and fatty” does not mean it’s a non-cancerous lump. The primary method used to tell if a lump is benign or if it should be removed is by performing a fine-needle aspirate (FNA) and cytology examination. In this procedure, a few cells are extracted from the lump and examined under a microscope. This is a quick, easy, and effective procedure that our doctors and technicians perform on a daily basis.
While blood work can be a helpful assessment of overall pet health, from a cancer diagnostic perspective, bloodwork can diagnose only cancers of the red blood cells and white blood cell cancers, (namely leukemia). Despite this, we advise biannual bloodwork on our older patients. If bloodwork values are abnormal, it leads the doctors to more specific diagnostics. For example, if bloodwork returns show high organ enzyme values, our doctors will look more closely at the specific organ.
Radiographs (X-rays) and ultrasounds are also two additional and important diagnostic tools available at LVH. X-rays of bones in older, limping pets help to diagnose bone cancers, while abdominal, chest, and heart ultrasounds help detect cancers in those respective areas. Whenever a concern of possible cancer is present, the doctor will help owners with decision-making about whether these diagnostics should be performed.
Treatments for cancers vary greatly depending on the particular type of cancer. Some cancers can be cured by surgery alone; others need surgery and follow-up chemotherapy and/or radiation. Pet chemotherapy is slightly different than human chemotherapy in that the goal is to not only put the cancer into remission but to also provide the pet with the best possible quality of life. Also, unlike human chemotherapy, pets rarely lose their hair.
As mentioned earlier, when cancers are caught early there is a greater chance of a successful treatment plan and cure. In cases where the cancer becomes complicated, the LVH doctors work with board certified specialists – specifically those at The Oncology Service at TLC in Leesburg– to further care for and treat these pets. More advanced diagnostics including but not limited to CT and MRI are available at The Oncology Service should they be needed.
The Veterinary Cancer Society is a great resource for insight and information; their site can be accessed here.