October 29, 2010 > Veterinary & Pet News: Cancer in pets
Veterinary & Pet News: Cancer in pets
Amongst the most surprising and startling discoveries one can find as a pet owner, is a lump or bump on your dog or coat. Running your hand over his coat, you notice a lump that wasn't there before.
There is no word scarier than the "C" word. Cancer in pets is on the rise and is the #1 natural cause of death for dogs. For dogs over six years of age, 60 percent will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, and nearly half the deaths of pets more than 10 years old are from cancer. With treatment advances, pets with cancer have a much better chance of survival than they did just a few years ago.
Unfortunately, many tumors are blown off as "lipomas," a benign fatty lump. Although they are common, many are over-diagnosed and many so called lipomas turn out to be cancer. Unfortunately, some folks, including a few veterinarians, have propagated the myth that any soft tumor is a lipoma. Within the last two weeks, I saw over four cases of cancer that appeared to be "lipoma-like" in appearance. All of them when biopsied came back as Mast Cell Tumor, a type of skin cancer. Truthfully, there is no exact way for anyone to know what type of cancer it is without a biopsy. I have been surprised on many occasions when I thought a tumor was benign based on physical examination and laboratory analysis revealed cancer.
What are the common signs of cancer in companion animals?
As in human cancer, detection is the first step to recovery. Knowing what to look for can save your companion animal's life. Common signs of cancer include:
Abnormal swellings that continue to grow
Sores that do not heal
Weight loss or loss of appetite
Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
Persistent lameness or stiffness
Difficulty eating or swallowing
Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
Many lumps can be analyzed by a needle biopsy. Others are analyzed by removing the lump and sending the entire removed portion to the laboratory for analysis. There may be reasons where one may be preferable to another. Other diagnostic tests include radiographs ("X-rays") to check for cancer spread, blood tests to check for organ function or to examine cancer cells in blood, and ultrasound to examine the organs. Other tests such as bone marrow analysis, CT scans, etc. are used for staging if indicated.
Surgery is perhaps the most common used modality to treat cancer. Many lumps and bumps, especially on the skin's surface can be easily removed and biopsied. In many cases, surgery is curative. In other cases, treatment modalities such as chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy are utilized. Chemotherapy has been very promising for certain cancers such as lymphoma. Dogs and cats seem to tolerate chemotherapy much better than people. Chemotherapy allowed one of my patients, "Lucky," to live approximately 2 ? years of good, quality, pain free life. After witnessing the success in such cases, I have become a believer for its use in certain cancers.
Almost all pets with cancer can be helped. You can beat the darkness of cancer with knowledge.