Combating cancer in dogs and cats on every veterinary front.
Cancer can be one of the most complex and difficult diseases to diagnose and treat, not to mention emotionally draining on every level for both you and your pet. Oncology leads the attack against your pet's cancer, coming at it from all sides with traditional therapies, radiation, surgery, immunotherapy and chemotherapy to provide the best possible prognosis. Quality of life is critical to you, your pet, and to us, which is why we consider both pain management as well as psychological and social needs when treating your pet's cancer.
A multi-pronged attack on cancer
Oncology combines knowledge, skill and experience with that of the surgery, radiology and alternative medicine specialists to create a comprehensive approach to treat your pet, and defeat the cancer.
Depending on the location, type and stage of your pet's cancer, treatment will involve some combination of oral chemotherapy, intravenous chemotherapy administered in our hospital, radiation therapy, surgical removal or reduction of the tumor, acupuncture, immunotherapy, food therapy, and oral pain medication. Early, aggressive therapy is vital. Cancer comes in various forms.
While people and pets live for years, most of the cells that make up our bodies generally have lifetimes measured in days, weeks, or months. Growth occurs through division, or splitting, of cells from one cell into two. This division occurs at different rates, depending on the tissue, the age of the individual, and the need at hand. Cell division happens rapidly, but in a controlled way, in growing children or pets, or when a wound is healing.
When the natural order is upset, though, and cell division occurs in an uncontrolled way, this is termed cancer or neoplasia (literally new growth). In some cases this takes the form of a mass, such as an enlarged lymph node, or a visible skin lesion, these are tumors. There are some forms of cancer that do not form masses, however, but spread themselves throughout the body. These types of cancer are most commonly associated with blood cells, such as leukemia or lymphoma, and may require bone marrow testing, in addition to other tests, to diagnose.
Benign vs. malignant: Benign tumors are masses that grow slowly, and do not have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body. These are generally named with the Latin term for the tissue, and end with oma, which means mass. Lipomas, for example, are benign masses of fat cells. These types of benign tumors may only become important if they impact normal function. Benign does not necessarily mean harmless, though even a benign tumor inside the skull, growing very slowly, can put dangerous pressure on the brain.
Other tumors do tend to spread through the body. As these cancers grow, small clumps of abnormal cells will break from the main tumor, and spread to other parts of the body. In the case of sarcomas, this spread is through the blood vessels. Because capillaries have the smallest diameter, these clumps tend to end up here there are very large numbers of capillaries in the liver, spleen, kidney, lungs, and brain, and these areas are the most common for new tumor growth.
Carcinomas follow a similar path, but through the lymphatic system, and spread first to lymph nodes. Regardless of the route, this process is referred to as metastasis, and cancers that display this behavior are malignant. There are other differences between sarcomas and carcinomas, but the important thing to know is that malignant cancer, whether sarcoma (such as lymphosarcoma) or carcinoma (such as squamous cell carcinoma) is serious, and early treatment, before metastasis, is important.
A note on cancer naming: If benign cancers end with oma, and malignant cancers end with carcinoma or sarcoma, then lymphoma and melanoma should be benign. Unfortunately, common usage has altered some of the names, and this can be confusing. When there is no benign form of a tumor, such as lymphosarcoma or melanosarcoma, physicians and veterinarians tend to drop the sarc or carcin because it makes the word easier to say. Thus, Hodgkin's lymphoma is a malignant cancer, not benign as the name would indicate.
Common types of cancer.
Skin cancer: Because skin is the largest organ in the body, it should come as no surprise that the skin is an area where cancer is commonly found. There are several types of skin cancer, though, and they require different treatment. Mast cell tumors, melanosarcoma (often called malignant melanoma, or just melanoma), and squamous cell carcinoma are common forms. There is even a cancer that starts in blood vessels, hemangiosarcoma (hem=blood, angio=vessel), that spreads to skin.
Lymphatic cancer: Cancer of the lymph nodes and, less frequently, of the circulating blood, occurs relatively commonly in dogs, and is more common in some breeds than in others. Some cancers, as noted above, also spread to lymph nodes.
Bone cancer: Osteosarcoma, a malignant bony tumor that occurs most often in large breeds, accounts for more than 80% of bony tumors. While osteosarcoma responds to chemotherapy, it also tends to spread or metastasize at an early stage, so rapid diagnosis and combined therapy with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are critical to the outcome. While amputation before metastasis? is the core of traditional therapy, ASG, along with many surgery centers around the world, focuses on limb-sparing procedures where appropriate. Limb-sparing procedures remove the diseased bone, and replace it with a bone graft. These procedures are especially valuable in patients that are not good candidates for amputation.
The future looks bright.
Twenty short years ago, there were not many options when diagnosed with cancer, for people and pets alike. But cancer diagnosis, treatment and surgery continue to make huge improvements, and conditions that were not treatable twenty years ago can potentially be sent into remission today. And the treatment regimens of chemo, radiation, and surgery are much kinder than they were then, too (and getting better all the time).
No one wants to have themselves, family or pets diagnosed with cancer. It is both physically and emotionally draining, and painful for the patient, family, and doctors. But it is no longer hopeless. We will be right there beside you, guiding you, helping you make good treatment decisions, and helping your pet through this challenging time.