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 treating dog cancer
The objective of treating dog cancer 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 canine 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?
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.
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
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.