TACK­LING THE BIG C

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - PETS - WORDS: DR MARK REEVE

Many of my clients worry about their pets get­ting can­cer. We don’t have much data on how long pets lived in the past, so it’s hard to say how it has changed over time. What we do know is that, anec­do­tally, most vets are see­ing much greater longevity in their pa­tients. As pets are in­creas­ingly liv­ing longer, we start to see more prob­lems like can­cer.

We have vastly re­duced the im­pact of in­fec­tious dis­eases in our pets. Even heart­worm is rel­a­tively well con­trolled in Aus­tralia. The rates of trau­matic in­jury in pets has also dropped con­sid­er­ably. This is be­cause most own­ers ac­knowl­edge it’s not OK for their dog to roam the neigh­bour­hood while they are at work. Pets with chronic old age dis­eases like os­teoarthri­tis, heart or kid­ney dis­ease live longer as well be­cause we are so much bet­ter at treat­ing this and have ac­cess to more ef­fec­tive med­i­ca­tions. All this adds up to see­ing can­cer more fre­quently.

There is no sin­gle way to de­scribe can­cer and its ef­fect on our pets. It re­ally de­pends on the type of can­cer, where it is and at what point in the dis­ease process we have caught it. The most com­mon type of can­cers I see are those that af­fect the skin or the lay­ers just be­low the skin.

I think this is be­cause we have a very close re­la­tion­ship with our pets, so most own­ers will no­tice new lumps and bumps with touch or can see them de­velop.

The first step I work through with an owner when we no­tice a lump that may be can­cer is get­ting an ac­cu­rate ini­tial di­ag­no­sis. This nor­mally means get­ting a sam­ple of the cells in the lump and ex­am­in­ing them. Some­times this can be done with a small num­ber of cells taken by a fine nee­dle. This works great for cer­tain types of can­cer; how­ever, it doesn’t work so well if we need to see how the cells are or­gan­ised with one an­other. For this, we need a big­ger sam­ple called a biopsy this of­ten needs se­da­tion or even a gen­eral anaes­thetic.

If your vet tells you that the sam­ple is be­ing sent to the lab for anal­y­sis, this means we are us­ing the ser­vices of a pathol­o­gist. This is a vet­eri­nar­ian with ex­tra train­ing in look­ing at these sam­ples and mak­ing a di­ag­no­sis.

Once we have a di­ag­no­sis of what type of can­cer the lump is, we can use re­ported data to make the best plan of at­tack. Of­ten we need to “stage” the can­cer — this means we look to see if it has spread and, if it has, where it has spread. Like a lot of the dis­eases I talk about, the sooner some­thing is dis­cov­ered, the sooner we can take ac­tion on it and the bet­ter chance your pet has of re­cov­er­ing.

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