The Dreaded “C” Word
As pets age, concerns arise regarding their overall health. In some instances diseases can develop that may be terminal or require intensive treatment or management. Just as in humans, one group of diseases that can strike fear in every pet owner is the dreaded “C” word, or cancer (also known as neoplasia).
Like in humans, cancer in pets can affect various systems and organs of the body. Some forms are more prominent or are at increased risk of occurrence in a certain breed or sex. The typical age group for diagnosis is middle to old age (7 yrs old or greater), but it can be diagnosed earlier in life. Clinical signs that can be seen will depend on what organ or system is being affected. For instance, bone cancer may cause a lameness or swelling to develop on the affected limb; cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, or spleen may cause a decreased appetite, listlessness, vomiting or diarrhea, or anemia (a decrease in the red blood cell count); cancer of the central nervous system may cause seizures, an unsteady gait, or change in a pet’s behavior (i.e. becoming aggressive).
How to determine a diagnosis will also vary based on what type of cancer is suspected. The most common diagnostics that are performed in all cases include complete blood work, urinalysis, and chest radiographs. Additional diagnostics that may be considered, depending on which organs are affected, include fine needle aspiration, biopsy, abdominal radiographs and/or ultrasound, or additional blood work. Occasionally more advanced diagnostics such as CT scan or MRI may be needed. Once a definitive diagnosis is reached treatment protocols can be discussed, which can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or palliative treatment.
There have been great advancements in the methods of detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer in veterinary medicine through the years. There are increasing numbers of board-certified veterinary oncologists throughout the US that offer cutting-edge therapy to cancer patients. Research is continuously being conducted to determine earlier detection methods, clarify the use of biomarkers to aid in identification of the presence of certain types of cancer, and improve treatment options. These enhancements are improving the veterinarians’ ability to maintain an acceptable quality of life for pets and their owners and hopefully improve longevity.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a wellness visit for your pet, please contact us today at (407)366-4486 to schedule an appointment.