Help­ing own­ers un­der­stand can­cer in their pets

Pretoria News Weekend - - NEWS -

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

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