dog cancer treatment with radiation therapy

Dog Cancer Treatment:Options for Keeping Your Dog Alive

dog cancer treatment
Early detection is the best cure for canine cancer.

Gone are the very terrible days of limited or zero options when it comes to dog cancer treatment, these days there are quite a handful of options for treating cancer in dogs. Some dogs with cancer may experience remission when treated while some may be cured but the best that we can truly expect is better quality of life for our dogs.

Taking care of dogs with cancer is a costly expenditure because your dog may require more than one type of cancer treatment.

Objective of dog cancer treatment

The objective of dog cancer treatment is to restore the quality of life of the patient or at least provide the highest quality of life possible over the longest possible time frame which will either involve a curative (excision and control of the cancerous tissue) or palliative (to halt metastasis and reduce pain) therapy.

There are several factors that come to play when it comes to dog cancer treatment but prominent among them on the side of the pet parent are the emotional and financial issues. In order to make the proper decision regarding dog cancer treatment dog owner must request for an unbiased and frank assessment of the state of the dog, the options of treatment available and the financial implications.

On the side of the vet oncologist and other specialist that may play a part in the treatment of the cancer several factors will be considered. Issues such as the tumor type, location of the tumor and how aggressive it is i.e. is the tumor localized (resident at a particular part of the dog’s body) or has it metastasize (spread to other parts of the body).

For instance aggressive tumors that have either metastasized or are likely to do so will usually involve multiple treatment options (surgery and chemotherapy) and the goal in this case will not necessarily be to cure but rather to slow down the cancerous growth and prolong the life of the patient while for localized tumors that can be treated either by surgery or radiation the goal is to cure.

For owners who cannot afford the cost of dog cancer treatment there may be little else that could be done other than to seek other means of providing as much help as possible to the suffering dog particularly in terms of lessening the accompanying pains and treatment for concurrent diseases if there are any.

However for owners who can afford the cost of dog cancer treatment there are other issues that has to be considered such as:
  • Can the dog withstand the treatment for cancer?
  • Considering the present state of the dog will the treatment significant improve the quality of life or life expectancy? The underlying health condition may be at odds with the treatment.
  • What is the stage and grade of the cancer and will the treatment provide any realistic and significant benefit for the dog and will it meet the expectation of the dog owner both in terms of quality and prolongation of life?

Dog cancer treatment: diagnosis

Successful dog cancer treatment hinges on early detection and this is usually the most challenging part of the disease simply because cancerous cells can develop both on the skin and in internal organs of the body which is a lot more difficult to detect at very early stages.

When a lump or tumor is seen on a dog the first thing the vet will do is to carry out test to check if the lump is cancerous. This could include a physical examination of the dog, blood tests, x-rays but more importantly a fine needle aspirate and/or biopsy will be required.

dog cancer diagnoses
Fine needle aspirate is good for diagnosing the type of cancerous growth.

Fine needle aspirate: this technique is less invasive and less expensive than a biopsy and it involves the use of a needle and a syringe to suck a small sample of the tumor (cell) just like the process of getting a blood sample. The sample is then taken to the lab to be examined for cancerous cells.

While a fine needle aspirate is good for diagnosing the type of growth it is not capable of showing if the cancerous cells have spread to other parts of the body and it is not a 100% accurate. There are cases of wrong diagnoses in which malignant tumors are diagnosed as benign.

Dog tumors such as histiocytoma, lymphoma, lipoma and mast cells are quite easy to diagnose with fine needle aspirate.

Biopsy: this technique is more invasive than the fine needle aspirate because it involves the extraction of a core tissue; it enables the pathologist to have a more thorough examination of the lump. This process will require the sedation of the dog meaning that it usually done under anesthesia.

The techniques mentioned above are ways that vets can truly determine state of a lump on a dog and not be visual examination

Dog cancer treatment: stage and grade

After cancerous cells have been identified the next clinical step towards the treatment of the dog is determining the extent and the aggressiveness of the tumor and this is accomplished through the staging and the grading of the tumor.

Staging: this is the process of ascertaining how far the tumor has travelled in the body i.e. if it has invaded other organs of the body; it also includes the number and size of the tumor. This procedure is critical in assessing the prognosis and determining the appropriate therapy for optimal remission of the tumor and for achieving the best quality of life possible for the dog.

Clinical staging for dogs is modeled after the standard set by the world health organization (WHO) for staging cancer in human beings. In staging a tumor there are 3 categories defined:

  • T” for the size of the T
  • N” for the invasion of neighboring lymph N
  • M” for the absence or presence of distant M

The outcome of these categories results in 4 clinical stages for the tumor:

  • Stage I: localized tumor.
  • Stage II: localized tumor that has invaded the neighborhood.
  • Stage III: localized tumor with a wider neighborhood spread.
  • Stage IV: this involves all the first three stages along with distant metastases.

So a tumor or cancer in its late stage means that the prognosis is less favorable and therefore it will be more difficult to achieve long term remission or cure. The reverse is true, early stage tumor offers the best prognosis and they are easily to cure and achieve long term remission.

Grade: this is the definition of the aggressiveness of the tumor; this is the rate at which the cancer grows and metastasizes to other parts of the body. Therefore a low grade tumor offers a better prognosis and less aggressive compared with a high grade tumor. Different tumors have different levels of aggressiveness (grade).

Dog cancer treatment options

There are different dog cancer treatment options available today but three of these are the most popular and battle tested; these are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The table that follows list all the different dog cancer treatment option, tumors for which a particular treatment is indicated and their potential side effects.

Dog cancer treatment optionsTumors for which this treatment is indicatedPotential side effects
Surgery: this is ideal treatment option for localized cancer treatment but can provide other great benefits in case where the cancer has metastasized. Such as increasing the rate of success when combined with other dog cancer treatment options like chemo and/or radiation; for extracting secondary tumors that are caused by metastases; extracting tumors that may get in the way of normal organ functions and also for cosmetic purposes.
The disadvantage of this dog cancer treatment is that every single cancerous cell may not be removed.
Prostate Tumors
Skin Tumors
Bone Tumors
Mammary Tumors
Lung Tumors
Gastrointestinal Tumors
Pains and possible infections as a result of the surgery.
Complication may develop during surgery.
The affected area may not function as good as before.
Chemotherapy: this is a dog cancer treatment option that employs the use of drugs to destroy aggressive and rapidly dividing tumor cells or those that are likely to metastasize. The chemo drug can also be intravenously fed.Lymphoma
Mast cell tumors
Mammary tumors
Soft tissue sarcomas
Venereal tumors
Skin tumors
Gastrointestinal tract tumors
Squamous cell carcinoma
Skin and nasal carcinomas
Central nervous system tumors
Brain tumors
Surrounding tissues will experience severe chemical burns as a result of chemo drug leaking into it from the veins.
Level of white blood cells may drop significantly due to bone marrow suppression resulting in a greater risk of infection.
Radiation: this dog cancer treatment is used to destroy or shrink tumors that are already widespread or difficult to reach surgically without affecting normal tissues; it is also employed in situations when the patient’s health may be at risk of surgical complications.Oral mycosis fungoides
Extranodal localized lymphoma
Pituitary macroadenoma
Nasal tumors
Transmissible venereal tumors
Brain tumors
Squamous cell carcinoma (facial skin and oral cavity)
Mast cell tumors
Epulis (acanthomatous, fibromatous)
Perianal adenoma
Radiated areas will experience temporary hair loss.
If it occurred in the mouth then some/all may be experienced: eating difficulty, drooling, pain in the mouth and loss of appetite.
Cryosurgery: also referred to as cryotherapy is a dog cancer treatment that employ the use of extreme cold to destroy cancerous cells on the surface of the body and it is usually carried out under local anesthesia. However they cannot be used to kill cells that have metastasized.Eyelid tumors
Oral tumors
Perianal tumors
Skin tumor
Hair in the affected area may not retain its original texture and color when it grows back.
Hyperthermia: a dog cancer treatment option that destroys cancerous cells with the use of high temperature. The efficacy of this treatment option is a function of the temperature used during treatment, characteristics of the cells and length of treatment. Usually used in conjunction with radiation.Mast cell tumors
Same as cryotherapy
Immunotherapy: this is a technique in which the body’s immune system is stimulated (by injection or orally) to either destroy or prevent cancerous cells; it is not likely to kill every cancerous cells therefore it often used in combination.

The table below is a list of common cancers in dogs, their symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Common cancers in dogsSymptomsDiagnosis Dog cancer treatment
Skin cancer: skin related cancer ranks high as one of the most prominent type of cancer found in dogs. Mast cell tumor account for the highest percentage of all dog skin cancers, other dog skin cancer includes malignant melanoma and squamous cell tumors. Mast cell tumors are usually found towards the rear of the dog and limbs. They could either be rapid-growing ulcerated lumps that is white, firm with bluish-purple areas or slow-growing soft and flaccid yellowish lumps.Biopsy of the lesion.Surgery is employed to remove the tumor and tissues around the site in order to prevent metastasis. After the surgery heals radiation will be applied to forestall a possible recurrence of the tumor.
Mammary tumor: this present the highest occurrence of tumor in female dogs that have not been spayed; even benign mammary gland tumors have a fair chance of becoming malignant.They may appear as a mass or as a single or multiple lumps in the tissues of the mammary glands. It can grow rapidly and the affected area becomes swollen, red and warm to the touch.Fine needle aspirate is quite accurate in diagnosing this tumor.If the dog is in good health and can withstand surgery then radical excision of the tumor can provide a complete cure.
Lymphoma: mature bone marrow cells that are part of cellular immune reaction are referred to as lymphocytes; these cells can experience changes and become cancerous cells. The lymphocytic cancers rank as the third most prominent cancer type found in dogs.Loss of appetite, fever and weight loss.Biopsy and examination of the lymphoid tissues under microscope.Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for lymphoma.
Tumor of the mouth: this is about 6% of tumors found in dogs and of all oral tumors, melanoma is the most common followed by adenocarcinoma, fibrosarcoma and squamous cell.Bad breath, weight loss, loss of appetite, difficulty in chewing and swallowing.Biopsy of the lesion and x-ray to determine the spread of the disease.Surgery is the first choice and radiation may be used in the case of incomplete removal of the tumor or if it has metastasized.
Bone cancer: osteosarcoma is the most common bone tumor found in dogs occurring mostly in the bones of the limbs. They are quite invasive and often metastasize to the lungs.Most common symptom is gradual lameness.Biopsy and clinical signs such as mild lameness with signs of pain.For a long time severance of the affected limb along with chemo has been the mainstay. However surgical removal of the tumor and the reconstruction of the bone at the site of excision have been found to be equally effective.

Dog cancer treatment: alternative therapy

One of the reasons cancer have been quite devastating is because of late diagnosis at which point the cancer could have reached an advanced stage. The cost and risk associated with the treatment of dog cancer has led dog owners and vets in search of other forms of therapy that could be just as effective if not more effective, cheaper and less burdensome in terms of the emotional involvement and the toxic level of the treatment.

Natural treatment options that are less toxic and less invasive can be used in combination with the standard traditional approach to dog cancer treatment or they could be used in independently.

While the western part of the world has spent more than a century in the study of what we consider as conventional medicine, the eastern part of the world have spent just as much in the study of holistic medicine. And over the past decades more and more professionals have seen the efficacy of the eastern medicine have included holistic approach in addition to conventional therapy.

Holistic therapy is aimed at addressing both the root cause of the tumor as well as the tumor itself. The heavy impact of traditional vet medicine approach to dog cancer treatment can benefit from holistic support through the use of special diets, antioxidants, vitamins and herbs.

Holistic approaches to dog cancer treatment generally follow a similar approach to the following:
  • The well being of the dog is first evaluated and other health challenges are identified are addressed through dietary changes, vitamins, herbs etc.
  • In order to eradicate the cancerous cells from the dog’s body the immune system is and the production of cells that can destroy the cancerous cells are enhanced.
  • Herbs are employed to halt metastasis and antioxidants are introduced to suppress the cancerous cells from causing further damage.
  • The diet is adjusted to include a good douse of omega-3, veggie and reduced carbohydrate.
  • Enhancement of the blood with tonic herbs and food.

Dog cancer treatment: cost

The financial outlay of dog cancer treatment can be pretty demanding for an average dog owner and considering the fact that more often than not the disease is not usually detected early enough which means that the cost of treatment is likely going to be higher because more than one treatment option may be required.

dog undergoing cancer treatment
Treatment of dog cancer is financially demanding.

Dog cancer treatment involving any of the 3 major options that is surgery, chemo or radiation will be expected to be in a range of 2,000 to 10,000 dollars subject to several parameters. With these sort of financial burden it is not unusual for the pet owner to give up and simply watch the dog pass away.

However there are two options that can help in such circumstance:
  • A proactive step of purchasing insurance that covers the dog when it falls sick.
  • Online search for charity organization that provide financial assistance to sick pets and there are quite a few of them out there.

In summary the best approach to dog cancer treatment is prevention and early detection.

More Information on dog cancer:

Dogs with Cancer: Essential Facts about Canine Cancer

Signs of Cancer in Dogs: Vet’s 13 Common Warning Signs

Dog Skin Cancer: Different Types and Alternative Treatment

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