Helping owners understand cancer in their pets
CANCER is an umbrella term which describes a diverse range of conditions. What these conditions have in common is uncontrolled growth and proliferation of host cells, often to the detriment of the host itself.
Although the diagnosis of cancer in a pet is a big emotional shock to its owner, veterinary oncology has experienced marked changes over the past few years, and many types of cancer can now be managed successfully. A cure is not always possible, but a good quality of life can continue for months to years following treatment.
Tumours are classified as benign or malignant, based on their growth and behavioural characteristics.
Benign tumours grow relatively slowly, usually have a well-defined boundary between neoplastic (cancerous) and normal tissue and do not spread (metastasise) to other organs. They are usually not life-threatening.
Malignant tumours grow rapidly, are invasive and spread via the blood and lymphatics to other vital organs. They are often life-threatening.
Diagnostic evaluation is very important in the management of cancer.
The first step is making an accurate diagnosis. This can only be made upon microscopic examination of tumour tissue obtained by biopsy. The biopsy results reveal the type as well as the grade/severity of the cancer. The grade allows us to predict the likelihood and rate of metastasis.
The second step is called clinical staging. This process investigates the extent of the disease within the body. This includes checking for the spread of cancer at the sight of the primary tumour, spread to the draining lymph node of the primary sight, and spread to other distant organs. Staging may include the use of diagnostic tools such as radiography, ultrasonography, endoscopy and/or CT or MRI.
Once the animal with cancer has been fully evaluated and the extent of the disease is known, a prognosis can be given and a treatment plan drawn up to suit the individual case.
The three main methods of treatment in animals are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
A multi-modality approach (combination of treatments) increases the chance of cure and reduces the unwanted side effects of a single treatment used alone.
Clearly a cure is the desirable outcome, but even the most effective treatment modalities cannot achieve this in every case.
Sometimes, the side effects reduce the quality of life to such an extent that it is too high a price to pay for total cure, even if it is feasible. Therefore, the emphasis in veterinary oncology is often on palliation rather than on cure that prevails in human oncology.
If you have any suspicions about your pet’s health, it is always best to bring them to the practice for a check-up. – Valley Farm veterinary team