Treatments for Pet Cancer
Treatment options vary and depend on the type and stage of cancer. Common treatments include surgery,
chemotherapy, radiation therapy and naturopathy. A combination of therapies may be used.
Knowledge and treatment of cancer have increased significantly in the past three decades. Survival
rates have also increased due to the increase prevalence of canine cancer treatment centers and breakthroughs
in targeted drug development. Canine cancer treatment has become an accepted clinical practice and access
to treatment for owners has widely expanded recently.
There is one canine tumor vaccine approved by the USDA, for preventing canine melanoma. The Oncept vaccine activates T-cell responses and antibodies against tumor-specific tyrosinase proteins. There is limited information about canine tumor antigens, which is the reason for the lack of tumor-specific vaccines and immunotherapy treatment plans for dogs.
Success of treatment depends on the form and extent of the cancer and the aggressiveness of the therapy.
Early detection offers the best chance for successful treatment. The heterogeneity of tumors makes drug
development increasingly complex, especially as new causes are discovered. No cure for cancer in canines
Natural and alternative remedies, improved nutrition, and herbal medicines have been shown in one peer-reviewed study to improve the condition of a dog with cancer. In cases where the cancer is not curable, there are still many things which can be done to alleviate the dog's pain. Good nutrition and care from the dog's owner can greatly enhance quality of life.
For owners of dogs and cats stricken with cancer, one of the leading causes of death among companion animals over the age of 6, costly treatments only add to the emotional difficulties. The diagnosis process begins with a physical exam by a veterinarian and they will most likely run tests for TK, CRP / Hpt and the measurement of Vitamin D3 Levels. The vet may establish a schedule to monitor these levels throughout treatment. The initial diagnosis will cost between $1,000 and $2,000.
Surgery for pets with cancer
This option is used if there’s a tumor that can be accessed and removed. Sometimes surgery alone can
be curative if the tumor has not metastasized and spread. In other cases, surgery is the vet’s first
move, and chemotherapy is also required to quell the disease. The cost for surgery can range between
$2,500 and $6,000 for the one-time surgery.
Surgery is considered the cornerstone for treating most cancers in animals. It is one of the oldest forms of cancer treatment and frequently the most effective one. Today, surgery may be combined with radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, depending on the characteristics of the case.
When cancer surgery is performed, the main goal is usually to remove all the cancerous cells in the animal’s body. Sometimes, if the cancer is detected early, surgery can completely cure the animal. Other goals of cancer surgery can include removing an unsightly tumor to improve the animal’s appearance or comfort or removal of a tumor that is interfering with the animal’s normal body functions. These goals can improve the quality of life for the animal.
Surgery is most successful when the tumor has not spread beyond its original location. Unfortunately, not all tumors can be surgically removed. Some are in inaccessible sites and there are times when the costs to the animal might outweigh the benefits. For example, removing a large tumor might require removing a vital organ or may cause a pet to lose a vital body function. If the cancer is in more than one location or has metastasized, then surgery is not as likely to be an effective treatment.
Pain management is an important part of surgical treatment. After the surgery, medication is usually provided to reduce pain and make the animal more comfortable.
Radiation therapy for pets with cancer
Radiation treatment is used with tumors that cannot be accessed with surgery because of their location.
Radiation is usually administered twice a week for approximately five weeks, and the total cost for
the course of radiation is typically between $5,000 and $7,000. Each treatment session with radiation
is fairly brief, lasting for less than half an hour.
This type of treatment is one of the most common treatments for cancer in both humans and animals. This treatment is sometimes also called x-ray therapy, radioisotope irradiation, or cobalt therapy.
Cancer cells divide more frequently than normal cells and do not recover from radiation damage as quickly or completely as normal cells. Radiation works as a treatment for cancer because it kills cells that divide rapidly or, in other cases, because it damages the cancer cells so severely that they cannot divide and grow. Radiation therapists work to deliver just enough radiation to the cancer cells to destroy or injure them and prevent them from reproducing.
Radiation therapy focuses a beam or field of intense energy on a certain area or organ of the body. The energy used in radiation therapy is similar to the energy used to create x-rays, but this radiation is many times stronger or the exposure time is much longer allowing the energy to kill the cancer cells. Radiation can be applied in 1 of 2 ways: from the outside using a machine, or from the inside using implants.
In radiation therapy, a linear accelerator beams rays to the site of the tumor. Normal tissue is shielded as much as possible from the destructive energy. To reduce exposure of normal tissue, multiple beam paths are often used. As a result, any negative side effects of the radiation are restricted to the area of treatment and do not affect the whole of the animal’s body.
Radiation therapy is often used in addition to treatment with surgery or chemotherapy or both. The therapy or combination of therapies prescribed for a particular animal will be selected by your veterinarian based on which options offer the best chance of controlling or eradicating your pet’s cancer. For brain tumors, nasal tumors, and other tumors in the head and neck, radiation therapy may be the treatment of choice. For cancers of the spine or pelvis, it may be the only practical treatment option.
Pet owners have also increased their requests for this treatment for their pets. However, radiation therapy is not a cure-all for cancer. Not all cancers are easily killed by radiation. Some cancers are highly resistant to radiation therapy and cancers of these types cannot be treated effectively with radiation. Thus, whether or not radiation therapy will be prescribed will depend, to a great extent, on the type of cancer to be treated.
Often, radiation therapy is used to either help make chemotherapy more effective or to decrease the size of a tumor in order to make surgical removal possible or more likely to succeed. Thus, radiation therapy is frequently used as a part of a combination treatment program.
Radiation is delivered in a series of doses over an extended period. By administering the radiation in this way, the killing effect on the cancer cells is maximized while the toxic effects on healthy cells are minimized. This schedule allows healthy cells to repair themselves after radiation exposure. The exact dose and the schedule for delivery will be carefully set based on the type of cancer being treated, how advanced the cancer is, the animal’s response to radiation therapy, and the goal of the treatment. For example, if the treatment goal is to reduce the size of a tumor prior to surgery, the treatment dose and schedule will be different than if the goal is to completely eradicate a tumor. Overall, a radiation therapy program will typically involve 5 doses per week for a period of 4 to 6 weeks.
There are some recognized adverse effects from radiation therapy. The extent and severity of these effects will depend on the size of the area being treated, the dose administered, and the location being radiated. When the radiation site is near sensitive tissues, the effects are likely to be more severe and prolonged. For example, treatment for tumors on the head or neck often causes damage to the overlying skin. Treatment of head tumors may cause inflammation or irritation of the lining of the mouth. For animals with this condition, a feeding tube may be recommended to reduce the discomfort of eating with a sore mouth.
Dry eye is another side effect associated with radiation to the head. It is caused by a decrease in tear production due to the impact of radiation on the eyelids. This can sometimes be a permanent condition. Eye drops and other medications are available to help prevent sores from developing and relieve eye irritation. Radiation to any portion of the digestive tract may cause irritation resulting in nausea, lack of appetite, or diarrhea. For these animals, a change in diet may help control the signs.
Chemotherapy for pets with cancer
Chemotherapy uses drugs to attack the cancer. Costs can vary based on the particular medication used,
the number of rounds of chemo required, and the size of your dog, but each treatment is usually around
$1,000. This means you could expect the total bill for the entire course of treatment to wind up being
between $6,000 and $10,000.
Chemotherapy can be used to manage and treat several types of cancer. The treatment goal is to shrink, stop the growth of, or destroy the cancer without long-term negative effects on the quality of life for the animal. Veterinarians will prescribe chemotherapy based on the type of cancer to be treated, the stage of the cancer, the overall condition of the animal to be treated, and any financial constraints that may be present.
In an ideal situation, a chemotherapy drug would kill cancer cells in an animal’s body without harming normal healthy cells. Few such drugs have been found. Today, the drugs selected for chemotherapy have been designed to be more damaging to cancer cells than to normal cells. They specifically target cells that divide and grow rapidly. Normal cells will be affected to some extent by chemotherapy drugs; sometimes the drugs can have adverse effects.
Chemotherapy drugs are delivered either through the mouth or by injection. If an injection is used, it can be into a vein (intravenous), muscle (intramuscular), or under the skin (subcutaneous). The delivery method will be selected with the comfort and quality of life for the pet in mind balanced against the goal of effective delivery of the drugs.
Some cancers do not respond to chemotherapy. How a tumor responds to a particular drug will depend
on the type, size, rate of growth and spread, and location of the cancer. These factors are some of
the most important ones in the selection of chemotherapy drugs, their combination, and their dosage.
As is the case with other cancer treatments, chemotherapy is most effective when the tumor is small,
is at an early stage in development, and has not spread to other parts of the body. When these conditions
exist, most cancer cells divide quickly and the chemotherapy drugs are able to kill a larger number of
the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy alone usually cannot cure cancer in pets. It is used most often to control cancer and its spread. Thus, chemotherapy is often used to treat cancers that affect the whole body, such as cancer of the lymphatic system (lymphoma). In other cases, chemotherapy is used to fight the remaining cancer cells when a tumor cannot be completely removed with surgery. Chemotherapy is also used to fight types of cancer that spread around the body early in their development.
Many of the chemotherapy drugs used to control cancer in people are used for the same purpose in pets. However, animals require dosages that are adjusted for their size and body type. In most cases, a combination of drugs will be used. Your veterinarian will evaluate the individual cancer and the particular needs of your pet when selecting the drug combination, dosage, and administration schedule.
Quality of life issues, medical and nutritional support concerns, and pain control are other considerations that the prescribing veterinarian must evaluate when selecting a chemotherapy program. In all cases, your veterinarian must weigh the expected benefits of the drugs with possible adverse effects to select the most appropriate treatment for your pet. The veterinarian will carefully monitor your pet’s physical and behavioral response to the treatment and adjust the dosage to maximize the effect on the cancer while reducing the side effects.
While improvements have been made in chemotherapy for humans—many of the well-known side effects such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue have been reduced in recent years—people still regard chemotherapy as a distinctly unpleasant experience. Animals generally appear able to tolerate chemotherapy better than people, but treatment with some chemotherapy drugs may lead to vomiting or a lack of interest in food. This side effect can be treated with anti-nausea medicine. Intravenous fluids can be used to control such side effects as vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.
Some chemotherapy drugs may cause a reduction in the number of red blood cells (anemia), white blood cells (leukopenia), or the cells that clot blood (platelets). The loss of white blood cells is probably the most significant of these effects because white blood cell loss lowers your pet’s ability to fight off infections. Your veterinarian will monitor your pet’s condition by taking blood samples. If the white blood cell count becomes too low, antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infections. For animals with a low platelet count, there is an increased risk of bleeding. Loss of hair is a common side effect of chemotherapy, though it varies among breeds.
Dogs and cats receiving chemotherapy usually have a good-to-excellent quality of life throughout the treatment program. Side effects, if any, are usually mild. The risk of life-threatening adverse effects is estimated at less than 5% for most types of chemotherapy. If your pet will be undergoing chemotherapy, you should discuss the treatment program with your veterinarian in advance. You need to come to a mutual understanding about what can be expected for your pet and the level of risk that can be accepted.
Chemotherapy may be stopped before the end of the scheduled treatment program if the cancer being treated is not affected by the drugs or starts re-growing following a period of remission. A prescribed chemotherapy program may also be stopped when the animal has received the maximum acceptable total dose for a particular drug or if there are unacceptable adverse effects.
Naturopathy for pets with cancer
Naturopathic medicine is an approach to health care that uses natural, non-toxic therapies to treat the
whole animal and encourage the self-healing process. Nature medicine clinicians treat a variety of conditions,
including digestive issues, sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Your naturopathic oncology provider also will review current supplements to identify potential herb-drug-nutrient interactions.
When working with an animal diagnosed with cancer, naturopathic veterinarians use research based on
proven therapies to enhance the quality of life, improve treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery,
naturopathy); improve outcome; treatment effectiveness and enhance survival.
Every animal is unique, just as each cancer diagnosis is different; therefore, therapies are tailored to the specific animal and their disease. Treatment plans and therapeutic methods will often change during the course of treatment since cancer itself is always changing. A key feature of naturopathy therapy is to acknowledge that each animal's cancer diagnosis is unique and their treatment plan must also be exclusive to their needs.
Ancerix provides comprehensive support materials and product for each stage of a cancer animal’s experience (from diagnosis to treatment decisions and restoration of immune function, and health restoration after completion of standard treatments). The goal is to improve not just the quality of life of your pet living with cancer, but also to support the entire care-giving team.
While mainstream forms of cancer treatment generally prolong life or permanently cure cancer, most treatments also have side effects ranging from unpleasant to fatal (pain, blood clots, fatigue, and infection). These side effects and the lack of a guarantee that treatment will be successful make alternative treatments for cancer, which purport to cause fewer side effects or to increase survival rates, very appealing.
Combination therapy for pets with cancer
The term combination therapy refers to the use of 2 or more treatment options in the fight against
cancer. Today, combination therapy is the most frequently used approach to treat cancer in pets. It
offers the best opportunity to cure the cancer while maintaining the best possible quality of life
for the animal.
Combination chemotherapy offers many advantages over single drug treatment programs. For example, when multiple chemotherapy drugs are used, and each one uses a different mechanism to kill cancer cells, it is less likely that the cancer will become drug resistant. This improves the chances that the treatment will be successful. Also, a combination of drugs can target different cancerous sites, increasing the likelihood of controlling any spread of the cancer. When using drugs with different side effects in combination, the probability is high that any side effects will be no worse than with a single drug given separately. These benefits combine to make a combination therapy program the best choice in many cases.
There is no single best treatment for all cancers. For some cancers, the best approach is one that
combines surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Tumors and other cancers that are confined to
a localized area are often best treated with surgery or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy has the
advantage of treating cancer cells that have spread from their original location. In other cases,
radiation or chemotherapy is used to shrink a tumor to a size that makes surgical removal possible
or more likely to succeed. Radiation or chemotherapy may be used following surgery to kill any cancer
cells that may remain.
The stage of cancer development is a factor in selecting the treatment, whether a single treatment mode or a combination of treatment methods. For animals with advanced cancers that cannot be treated with surgery or radiation therapy, combination chemotherapy can be used to reduce the signs of the disease and prolong life.
Prospects for a Cure
During the past century, researchers have made enormous strides toward finding a cure for cancer.
But we are not there yet. There is no single and complete cure for cancer in either humans or animals.
However, much has been learned about managing and treating this ancient disease. Veterinarians have
been successful in using surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy to cure many animal cancers.
Meanwhile, research is continuing and the prospects for better cancer treatments are strong.
Each of these options can be used alone or in combination with other treatments. The specific treatment program your veterinarian will recommend will depend on the specifics of your pet’s condition. In selecting the treatment, you should consider the type of cancer, how quickly it grows and spreads and the location of the cancer.