In simple terms oncology is the study of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. But what is cancer exactly? It is a term most people are unfortunately familiar with, but do not actually understand the disease process. Cancer is the result of abnormal and uncontrolled cell growth. This unregulated cell division subsequently results in a tumor or mass somewhere in the body. If these cells gain access to the blood stream or lymphatic system, they can spread to other organs (the lungs or lymph nodes are very common sites). This process of the cancer spreading is known as metastasis. As these uncontrolled cells replicate, they interfere with normal body functions and may cause the pet a significant amount of pain.
Cancer can be a terrible diagnosis for a pet owner to hear, but the veterinarians at Polo Springs Veterinary Hospital are knowledgeable and experienced at both diagnosing and treating pets with all different types of cancer. Not all cancers are fatal, and some cancers can actually be cured. For example, if a skin tumor is diagnosed early, the chance of it being surgically removed in its entirety greatly increases. If the whole mass can be completely removed (confirmed by submitting the tissue sample to a veterinary pathologist) your pet will once again be cancer free. This is why it is so important to have every mass, regardless of whether it is internal or on the skin, properly evaluated by a veterinarian. A simple but critical test that the veterinarians at Polo Springs can perform on any mass is a cytological exam. A sample of cells is collected through a very small needle and subsequently evaluated under the microscope to determine whether the mass is benign or malignant (capable of spreading). Sedation is almost never required for us to perform this test, and it can usually be completed within a matter of minutes. When we perform this test on an internal mass (ie. inside the abdomen or inside the chest cavity) we may want to utilize ultrasonography when collecting the specimen. It is important to know that a veterinarian cannot simply feel or palpate a mass on or inside a pet and definitively determine whether it is cancerous or not. That is why the cytological exam of any mass is so important.
Unfortunately, some masses grow too large for complete surgical excision or are located in inoperable areas. Additionally, some cancers are not solitary tumors but are diffusely present in an organ or throughout the pet’s body. In these cases, we will be required to explore other types of cancer treatment besides surgery. If your pet’s cancer is one that responds to chemotherapy, you can be assured that the veterinarians at Polo Springs Veterinary Hospital are ready to help you and your pet through the entire treatment process. The most surprising thing pet owners learn is that chemotherapy rarely causes dogs and cats to lose their hair the way human cancer patients do. They also tend to experience less severe vomiting (if any at all) compared with human patients. If your pet is receiving chemotherapy at Polo Springs, they will visit the hospital to have certain chemotherapeutic drugs administered and blood samples monitored. Fortunately, newer medications are also available that can increase your pet’s chances of survival and actually be administered by you at home. This makes the whole process easier on the family. In rare instances, some patients may require radiation therapy to treat their cancer, and we are here to help your companion receive this care as well.
With so many new advances in veterinary medicine, the veterinarians at Polo Springs Veterinary Hospital have extensive treatment options to combat your pet’s cancer. With these options comes hope for you and your pet. We want to work with you and your family to determine the best course of treatment for your companion. We will discuss any quality of life concerns you may have to ensure your pet is handling their treatment protocol well. In the case that you elect not to pursue cancer treatment or the cancer is too advanced, we offer palliative care options. This is a type of pet hospice that allows you to keep your pet in your home, while providing them with the care they require to keep them comfortable and free from pain.
Cancer can be a devastating diagnosis for a pet, but it is important to remember that it is not always. We will guide you through the diagnostic process and present you with all available treatment options. We will help you decide on a treatment protocol that will have the most benefit for your companion. We are happy to see patients for an initial consultation or for a second opinion if you are unsure of your options regarding a recent cancer diagnosis. The entire staff of Polo Springs is here to help you every step of the way.