Veterinary Oncology

When your pet is faced with cancer, a veterinary oncologist will typically work in concert with your pet’s general practice veterinarian in order to obtain the best possible medical outcome for your pet. A veterinary oncologist can help your pet by developing treatment plans that incorporate one or all of the following options:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Clinical Trials

While your general practitioner veterinarian can diagnose and treat many health problems, certain diseases like cancer require the care of a doctor who has had specialized, intensive training in veterinary oncology.

Just as in humans, a pet with cancer typically needs the help of an oncologist to help diagnose and treat the disease. Veterinary oncologists determine the most appropriate course of treatment and coordinate the treatment program for pets with cancer. They also frequently serve as consultants to veterinarians in private practice to ensure that their patients receive the best treatment possible for their cancer.

You can be assured that a veterinarian who refers you and your pet to a veterinary oncologist is one who is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of medical care for his or her illness.

While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to simply consult with the veterinary oncologist about your pet’s care, in other cases it is necessary to actually refer you and your pet to the veterinary oncologist for more advanced diagnostics and treatment. Board certified veterinary oncologists may also have access to specialized diagnostic or treatment tools that a general practice veterinarian may not have.

My Pet Has Cancer. Now What?

Cancer does appear to be becoming more common in pets, most likely because they are simply living longer. The most important point to realize about this dreaded disease, however, is that just as in people, many forms of the disease can be easily treated, managed, and even cured. Early detection and specialized care are leading to increased survival and cure rates in almost all the types of cancers that afflict pets.

From surgery to chemotherapy to radiation therapy, veterinary cancer specialists can offer your pet the very latest diagnostic and treatment options and the best chance of survival. With optimal treatment, cancer in many cases simply becomes another manageable chronic disease.

If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, it is important not to become overwhelmed. Ask your veterinarian to write down the most important points for you to review later. Although the disease is serious, treatment decisions generally do not need to be made quickly. If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, however, you will either want to have your general practice veterinarian work in consultation with a veterinary oncologist, or be referred to one of these specialists for your pet’s treatment.

Veterinary oncologists typically treat common tumors including: lymphoma, bone tumors, hemangiosarcoma, mammary tumors, bladder tumors, and skin tumors.  In addition, they are able to treat uncommon tumors in a variety of ways, often utilizing a network of other oncologists.

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Staging is the process of testing that evaluates your pet’s cancer with regard to tumor size and spread (if the cancer has metastasized or involves other parts of the body). From the information obtained with these tests, a numeric description is given with higher numbers indicating more advanced disease (i.e. stage V is more advanced than stage I). Knowing the stage of your pet’s cancer is critical in selecting the proper treatment as well as in establishing their prognosis. The numeric stage is based on initial testing. Therefore, it will not change during the course of your pet’s therapy. The grade of a cancer is different than its stage. Grading requires a tumor biopsy and microscopic description from a pathologist. The grade is also important for the prognosis and recommended treatment options.

Chemotherapy is one type of treatment available for pets with cancer. Chemotherapy may be considered to directly decrease the amount of cancer within your pet, to prevent or delay spread of cancer, or in combination with radiation therapy to improve the efficacy of this treatment. There are a variety of chemotherapy options including some chemotherapy that is given by you at home. Research in both human and veterinary oncology continues to lead to more specific types of chemotherapy to treat very specific cancers.

Chemotherapy is often a very daunting topic for pet owners. However, in our patients, chemotherapy is typically well tolerated. The majority of pets experience minimal side effects, often requiring no intervention or additional supportive care by you at home. We often provide supportive medications with the first treatment just to have on hand in case your pet experiences decreased appetite, nausea, or soft stool. The goal of a veterinary oncologist is to treat cancer but primarily to maintain your pet’s quality of life.

Veterinary Referral Associates offers Radiation Oncology for pets with cancer and has the only linear accelerator in the state of Maryland. Radiation therapy, similar to surgery, provides a targeted therapy for cancer treatment. There are a variety of ways radiation can be used from potentially curative therapy to palliative or supportive care. Palliative radiation often provides pain relief in the face of tumors that are not amenable to surgery or other treatment. The radiation protocol, similar to the specific chemotherapy, is tailored to your pet’s type of cancer and their medical history.

Surgery is a local therapy utilized to treat cancer.  It may include removal of a mass with the aim of curing the cancer. Alternatively, some tumors may require additional therapy after surgery with either radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Surgery may also be utilized to make a tumor more amenable to other therapies such as radiation therapy.  A veterinary surgeon will work hand in hand with the veterinary oncologist to establish the best treatment plan based on your pet’s cancer.