There are many misconceptions around radiation treatment. Many dog owners feel that radiation therapy involves a pill or is a treatment that will send toxins throughout the body making their dog feel ill.
The truth is that this description of radiation could not be further from reality. It's important to understand radiation therapy, not only because it's an excellent treatment option for many types of cancer in dogs, but also because it's a common medical treatment that you or a loved one might undergo in the future.
This article will discuss the basics of veterinary radiation oncology including who performs radiation, what radiation therapy is, common indications, types of radiation therapy, and possible side effects.
Who Performs Radiation Therapy?
Radiation oncologists determine the best radiation protocols for your dog and oversee all radiation treatments. Typically, a medical oncologist will refer you to a radiation oncologist if they feel that radiation would be helpful...
If your dog has cancer, meeting with a veterinary oncologist can be a very valuable experience. An oncologist has a completely different skillset and knowledge base than other veterinary specialists and general practitioners.
We've attended four years of veterinary school as well as an additional four to five years of training to become an oncologist. We've also passed rigorous exams and published original research in oncology to become board certified. As an oncologist, we only see patients with cancer, all-day everyday.
Our goal is to help you gain a better understanding of your dog's cancer, your treatment options, cost and side effects associated with each treatment, and determine how long your dog might be expected to live with each option. We want you to be able to choose a treatment that you feel is best for you and for your dog.
Often additional tests are needed to provide accurate information about lifespan. We need to know if cancer has spread...
When I first meet a client and their dog during an oncology consultation, one question that almost always comes up is whether or not their dog is painful.
We never want our dogs to be in pain or uncomfortable, and if they are, we definitely want to know how to fix it.
This article will discuss tumors commonly associated with pain, common signs of pain in dogs, and other ways that cancer can cause dogs to feel poorly.
Knowing what to look for is the first step towards helping your dog feel better.
Tumors Commonly Associated with Pain
Tumors invading bone -
Any tumor that invades bone will be painful. The most common places to have a tumor affecting bone is on the legs, ribs, and in the mouth.
Dogs do a very good job of hiding pain and don't express pain like we do (they don't typically vocalize). If a dog has a tumor that invades bone, they should be on pain medication (even if you don't think they're obviously painful).
You can determine if there is bone...
If a dog has a benign tumor that is completely and successfully removed with surgery, we expect them to be cured of that disease. Benign tumors cannot spread to distant organs and if surgery was adequate, the tumor will not regrow at the surgery site.
Veterinary oncologists tend not to use the word 'cure' when talking about malignant tumors. A malignant tumor is basically any tumor that has the ability to spread to another organ.
There are many cases where we expect that a patient will live for years after successful treatment and that they will ultimately die from something else, but because we cannot predict with 100% certainty that their cancer will not return in some way, we cannot use the word cure.
For example, if a patient is successfully treated for low-grade soft tissue sarcoma, grade I mast cell tumor, or low-grade II mast cell tumor, we expect that they will live for years and will eventually pass away from something else.
Even though this is the expectation, we...
What does cancer look and feel like?
In short, it can look and feel like anything.
These skin tumors can feel soft or firm, they can be covered in fur, ulcerated or hairless, they can also be painless, itchy or uncomfortable.
Sure, there are some types of skin masses (types of tumors) that tend to have a distinct appearance, where we might say "oh, that looks like a mast cell tumor" or "that's probably a soft tissue sarcoma". Then we take a sample (needle aspirate) to establish a diagnosis and make sure we're correct.
Where we can get into trouble is when we presume that a tumor is benign because it looks and feels like a lipoma (or skin tag). We never want to make the mistake of assuming a tumor is benign, just by looking at it or feeling it. We need to sample all tumors to establish an accurate diagnosis.
A lipoma is a benign (cured with surgery) tumor of fat that feels soft and lives under the surface of the skin (in the subcutaneous tissues). As long as a lipoma is...
Have you ever wondered if you could catch cancer from your dog or if your dog could spread their cancer to other dogs?
If so, you're not alone! I'm asked this question frequently at my oncology practice, and it's a common question asked of Google as well.
The good news is that cancer in dogs does not spread to people. So you can rest assured that you and your loved ones cannot catch cancer from your dog (nor from other dogs).
The interesting thing is that there is one type of cancer, typically seen in tropical and sub-tropical climates such as in the Southern US, Central and South America, China, the Far East and Middle East, and parts of Africa, that is transmitted from dog to dog.
Transmissible Venereal Tumor (TVT) is transmitted from dog to dog by close physical contact and usually affects the genitals - so it's often sexually transmitted. It can also be transmitted by licking, biting or sniffing tumor-affected areas, so the nose and mouth can be affected...
Having your dog undergo surgery is scary. Worrying that something will go wrong is a very natural and common fear. My recommendation is to help ensure the best outcome for your dog by (1) Preparing appropriately surgery ahead-of-time (find an excellent and experienced vet to perform the procedure, determine if a specialist should get involved, perform appropriate staging tests, make sure your vet/surgeon knows which medications you're giving and when they were last given)
(2) Learn how to care for your dog appropriately after surgery.
This article will walk you through what to expect after surgery and serve as a guide for how to best care for your dog post-operatively to avoid complications.
After the procedure
Most specialty clinics have a policy of hospitalizing all patients overnight after surgery. This is often ideal and allows the sedatives (given at surgery) to wear off, so your dog is looking "normal" when you pick him up. It also allows for appropriate pain management. Often,...
Soft tissue sarcomas (STS) account for approximately 15% of all tumors arising from the skin and underlying tissues in dogs. These tumors are most common in middle-aged to older dogs and arise from connective tissues. Since there are many types of connective tissues, there are subsequently many types of soft tissues sarcomas.
These tumors can arise from muscle, fat, fibrous, neurovascular tissue, etc. Examples of soft tissue sarcomas include peripheral nerve sheath tumor (PNST), liposarcoma, myxosarcoma, undifferentiated sarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, etc. If your dog has a "spindle cell tumor" or "mesenchymal tumor" involving the skin, these are different ways of saying 'soft tissue sarcoma'.
How to make a diagnosis
Just as with any other skin mass, we start with a needle aspirate to obtain a diagnosis. Soft tissue sarcomas do not release their cells as readily as other tumor types, so during the aspiration, we typically need to apply suction (negative pressure) to the...
Osteosarcoma is undoubtedly the most common primary bone cancer in dogs ('primary' refers to cancer originating in the bone), accounting for up to 85% of all primary bone tumors in dogs. Since osteosarcoma is so common, I wanted to share which dogs are most commonly affected, how it is diagnosed, as well as the prognosis we can expect with various treatment options.
What is osteosarcoma?
As mentioned above, osteosarcoma is a type of cancer that originates in the bone. It both destroys normal bone and produces new bone, which is very unstable.
Due to the instability caused by the tumor (and often microfractures that develop within the bone) it is an exceedingly painful disease to have.
Commonly, a dog with osteosarcoma will limp due to the destruction that the tumor causes within the bone. Since everything else is normal with the dog, the owner will usually attribute the limp to recent 'rough play' or 'jumping out of the truck'.
Then, when rest and pain meds don't...
How common are mast cell tumors?
It is important for a dog owner to have a good understanding of mast cell tumors (MCT) because they are the most common cutaneous (skin) tumor in dogs (up to 20% of all cutaneous tumors). The average age at diagnosis is approximately 8-9 years, but we see plenty of younger dogs affected as well.
Which dogs get mast cell tumors?
Although most MCT occur in mixed breed dogs, certain breeds are at increased risk for developing MCT such as dogs of bulldog descent (pugs, Boston terriers, Boxers, English bulldogs, Frenchies), Labradors, golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, beagles, Staffordshire terriers, Rhodesian ridgebacks, schnauzers, Weimaraners, and Shar-Peis.
In general, it is felt that MCT in dogs of bulldog descent tend to behave less aggressively (note I said 'tend to' - this is not a hard and fast rule) and MCT in Shar-peis have a tendency to behave more aggressively.
What are mast cells anyway?
Mast cells are part of the normal immune system....