Cancer is a general term for diseases characterized by uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells. The resulting mass, or tumor, may invade and destroy surrounding normal tissues and may spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to start new cancers in other parts of the body (metastasis).
Cancer is now the leading cause of death in companion animals. In today’s society, pets are protected by vaccinations, healthy diets, and careful supervision – they’ve become members of our families. But because they too are mammals, that are build upon DNA and are exposed continuously to the same physical, chemical, viral, and environmental pressures we are, cancer remains a real risk for our companion animals.
What should you look for?
- Lumps, bumps, and abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Limping, persistent lameness, or stiffness
- Bad breath and/or offensive odors
- Nasal discharge
- Bleeding problems and/ or abnormal discharges
- Difficulty breathing, eating, and/or swallowing
- Persistent vomiting and/or diarrhea or difficulty urinating or defecation
- Loss of appetite and/ or weight loss
- Decrease in activity and hesitation to play or exercise
- Lymph node enlargement
How is cancer diagnosed?
It is not possible to diagnose cancer based solely on physical examination findings and rarely is cancer detectable on blood tests. A tissue sample almost always must be taken for an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes this is as simple as taking some cells with a needle and syringe and placing them on a slide for examination. This procedure is termed a fine needle aspirate and cytology. At other times we need to surgically remove a larger sample and submit it to the laboratory, referred to as a biopsy and histopathology.
Biopsies can be taken with small, less invasive biopsy needles, via endoscopic equipment, or with the traditional scalpel techniques. At Southwest Veterinary Oncology, our oncologists carefully evaluate your pet’s medical condition prior to aspiration or biopsy and choose the technique that is most likely to provide a diagnosis with the least amount of trauma to your pet.
What treatments are available?
The cancer seen in animals is very similar to that which develops in people and the same treatment modalities are available. The primary methods of treatment include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy and complementary medicine may also be helpful. Soon gene therapy and targeted molecular therapeutics will also play a role. Although the treatment modalities are the same as those used in people, it is important to realize that animals usually tolerate the treatments better than people and relatively few side effects are seen. For more detailed information, please see our Therapies page.