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What Are Staging Tests and Why Are They Important?

When a dog has cancer, the two most important factors determining how long they will live and which treatments might help them are (1) what type of cancer they have and (2) has cancer spread to other organs (called metastasis). 

We always want to obtain a diagnosis (what type of cancer is present) and find out if metastasis has occurred (has the cancer spread) prior to initiating ANY treatment.

In order to find out if cancer has spread, we perform what we call "staging tests".  With these tests, we are looking throughout the body for evidence of cancer, based on where we know that particular type of cancer often travels. The staging tests for a mast cell tumor (skin tumor) are different than for a dog with lymphoma. The staging tests are also different for a young dog versus an older dog and are sometimes even different for a dog that feels sick versus a dog that feels healthy.

When we perform staging tests we are also trying to assess the overall health of the...

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Will Chemo Make My Dog Feel Sick?

Chemo is a scary word. We all have people close to us that have had chemotherapy and we'd all like to forget how sick and miserable it made them (or made us). Now our dog has cancer and yes, we want her to live longer, but the thought of putting her through chemotherapy...we just can't do it.

Well, as an oncologist, I wouldn't be able to do it if it were similar to a person's experience either. That's why things are very different in veterinary oncology.

In human oncology, we are choosing chemotherapy for ourselves. We accept that we will feel terrible during treatment, but we make this choice in order to live longer; that's the payoff. 

In veterinary oncology, we are making these choices for our dogs. Our goal is of course to prolong life, but not by compromising the quality of life. We give dogs chemotherapy at a fraction of the dosage that they use to treat people to avoid side effects.

Chemotherapy in dogs is either oral or injectable. Most injectable chemotherapy is...

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What is a Veterinary Specialist and How Can They Help?

Veterinary school programs are typically four years long. At most schools, the first three years involve classroom-based learning, and the final year allows the students to work in the clinic, seeing cases with the guidance of interns, residents, and University faculty. The student needs to pass a competency exam after vet school is completed and then must pass a licensing exam in the state they choose to practice.

Most students will become small animal general practitioners after vet school (treating dogs and cats); this is what most people have in mind when they think of a veterinarian.  Others will become large animal (dairy or beef cows, goats, sheep, etc.), equine, mixed (a combination of all types of animals), or exotic practitioners (birds, reptiles, pocket pets, etc.). Additional training beyond four years of veterinary school is not needed for any of these specialties. 

Some students want to get a bit more training before jumping into practice, so they will...

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The Best Way to Diagnose Skin Tumors on a Dog

If you have a dog, the odds are that he will develop at least one skin mass (tumor) in his lifetime.  How do you know if you should worry about it or not?

Most people will ask their vet to look at it, their vet will do so (they might feel it as well), and unless it has "aggressive" characteristics (warm to the touch, hard, fast growing, ulcerated or bleeding), they often just recommend monitoring. 

Unfortunately, monitoring a mass when you don't have a diagnosis isn't good advice.

They're hoping that it's just a lipoma - a common benign tumor of fat that feels soft.  The problem is that many cancerous tumors can feel EXACTLY like lipomas.  If you elect to "monitor" a tumor that's cancer and return to have your vet look at it in a month, two things could have happened during that time.

(1) It might have grown so large that it is no longer amenable to surgery at all.
(2) It might have grown to the point that surgery will remove most (not all) of the cancer cells,...

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Should You Treat Your Dog's Cancer?

On an almost daily basis, clients at my oncology practice will ask if I think they should treat their dog's cancer. This is a decision that many people struggle to make. They are worried that treatment may make their dog feel worse, wondering if treatment will actually work, worried about how much treatment will cost and wondering if it's logistically feasible to bring their dog to the clinic for ongoing treatment.  

Thankfully, most cancer treatments for dogs are very well-tolerated. That being said, deciding whether to treat your dog's cancer is an incredibly personal decision.

When I'm helping a family make this decision, I typically advocate for treatment if I feel that it (1) will improve a patient's quality of life, (2) will help to extend the length of their life, provided their quality of life is adequate, (3) is affordable for the family.

In most cases, when I first meet a family during a consultation, I don't have enough information to help them make this...

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