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Cancer in pets: ‘When it doubt, cut it out’

Stephen Sheldon
Vail, CO Colorado

In last week’s article we discussed some signs and symptoms of cancer and how we diagnose them. Now let’s move on to some of the more common cancers and how to treat them.

Basically you have three choices for therapy: cut the tumor out during surgery, poison the tumor with chemotherapy or burn it out with radiation. Dr. Greg Ogilve, Colorado State University’s animal cancer guru, advocates surgery as the first line of treatment. He says: “When in doubt, cut it out” and “your best deal is cold blue steel.”

For some cancers, surgery is all that is needed. Others require chemo to prevent spread and still others require radiation therapy. Sometime a combo of chemo and radiation is used. When a tumor cannot be removed or it is too large to remove, we try chemo or radiation to shrink the tumor to a more manageable size and then remove it.



Other cancers need chemo to control them. For example lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) or leukemia (cancer of the white blood cells) cannot be treated surgically. Determining how widespread the cancer is will tell us what type of chemo to use and for how long.

Yes chemo is a scary word, but pets tolerate it a lot better than we do. I would say well over 95 percent of the owners who have had me do chemo on their pets would do it again if needed. Dogs rarely loose their hair (except maybe whiskers) and usually only have a day or two of nausea between cycles.



There are two phases to chemo: the induction phase, which is rigorous and done weekly until the cancer is in remission, and the maintenance phase, in which a round of chemo is given every three to four weeks until all the cancer is gone.

Chemo routines ” also known as “protocols” ” are changing all the time. The line between where induction ends and maintenance begins is a hot topic today.

Radiation therapy is done less often because it must be done very frequently ” often up to three times a week. For us, that means going to Denver.



Let’s move on to some common cancers. Breast cancer in female dogs is almost 10 0 percent preventable by spaying before the first heat cycle. But surgery is a very effective treatment when it develops. If the cancer is malignant or advanced, radiation is recommended, though I have used chemo successfully.

Mast cell tumors are a common ski cancer and require a very wide and deep surgical excision, and chemo is the cancer is more widespread. Other common canine cancers are lymphoma, bone cancer, intestinal cancer and oral cancers.

Cats are also prone to cancer. Breast cancer is much more serious in cats than in dogs as almost all tumors are malignant whereas only half are malignant in dogs.

Early spaying is recommended but we can’t say for certain if it prevents breast cancer in cats.

Skin tumors and intestinal cancer are also more malignant in cats than dogs. If you see bumps on your cats get them checked out.

Dr. Stephen Sheldon, a member of The Veterinary Cancer Society, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He welcomes your questions and can be reached at 524-DOGS or http://www.gypsumah.com or drsteve@gypsumah.com


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