All About Dog Oncology
Cancer. That one little word has the potential to strike fear into our hearts. And just as humans can be susceptible to various kinds of cancer, so can your beloved dog.
It’s important that pet owners know how cancer is detected and treated in canines. Often people hear their dog has been diagnosed with cancer and think that there is nothing that can be done for their pet other than euthanasia.
Fortunately, this is usually not the case – there are veterinary treatment options available for your dog.
What Kinds of Cancer Can Affect Dogs?
Like humans, there are many different types of cancer that affect dogs. Some of the most common types of cancer in dogs include:
- Skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and mast cell tumours (MCT)
- Bone cancers, such as osteosarcomas
- Soft tissue sarcomas, such as fibrosarcomas
- Tumours of the blood vessels, such as haemangiosarcomas (spleen, liver, skin)
- Tumours of the endocrine system leading to Cushings Disease
How is Cancer in Dogs Detected?
Diagnosis of cancer in pets is a more common process these days, due to far better knowledge and advanced imaging technology such as CT and MRI.
Specialist veterinarians will have the necessary equipment to detect potential forms of cancer in your dog.
How is Cancer Treated in Dogs?
There are three main types of treatment available for cancer in dogs: chemotherapy, surgery or radiation treatment.
The treatment your veterinarian recommends will depend on many factors such as the type, size and location of the tumour, whether it has metastasised (spread), the age and general health of your pet and the costs involved.
In canine patients, chemotherapy is quite different from in humans – for example, your dog’s hair will not fall out, as we do not use the massive drug doses that is used for people. Some forms of chemotherapy may involve an ongoing regime of tablets, which can be managed at home and guided by blood tests to monitor response. Other, more intense forms of chemotherapy will require weekly visits for IV injections, which can usually be done with just a day visit to the hospital. These patients may also be having additional oral medications at home.
The most common side effect of this form of treatment in dogs is vomiting, which can usually be managed with anti-emetic medications. Regular blood tests will be required as your dog may be prone to infections while receiving chemotherapy.
Some cancers can be completely cured with surgery, for example, tumours like soft tissue sarcomas that are still small and do not metastasize. Sometimes curative surgery may involve removal of the mass, sometimes it can involve amputation of toes or even a limb. With cancers such as osteosarcoma, that have almost certainly spread microscopically prior to diagnosis, a combination of amputation of the leg and chemotherapy will provide the dog with pain relief and often these dogs have a good quality of life for several more months.
Haemangiosarcomas of the spleen are often not found until they are quite large and causing internal bleeding requiring emergency surgery. Surgery can be curative for skin cancers, but often they recur or develop new lesions.
Radiation treatment for cancer in dogs is not readily available in Sydney. However, there are options for treatment in Brisbane and Melbourne. Radiation is generally used for tumours that are inoperable and do not respond to chemotherapy. In some cases, radiation treatment may be recommended after surgery when cancer cells remain at the edges of the surgical site.