Cancer FAQ

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These questions are based on our many years of experience assisting the families of the dogs and cats that we treat for cancer. They are intended to assist you in overcoming the initial hurdles in determining what is best for your pet and for you. The key is clear communication and active participation. Understand there are no incorrect decisions: You must not worry about what other people will think. You know your pet better than anyone else in the world. Once you have gathered all of the information you need, listen to your heart and you will make the right decisions. Included is a checklist of questions to ask the medical team at the Cancer Centre when you visit for your first consultation and throughout the process.

What is the right thing to do?

A diagnosis of cancer often brings with it some overwhelming emotions, including a sense of loss of control, and a sense of hopelessness. When facing the diagnosis of cancer in a beloved pet, you feel the responsibility of making important life-changing decisions for someone who relies totally on your judgment. Your pet not only shares your home, your life and your experiences, but also your heart. This loved one depends on you to provide the best possible care. Ultimately, choosing the best treatment for an individual pet is something only the owner can decide.

Rest assured, most pets enjoy the extended lives they gain through cancer treatment, and do not even realize that they are “ill.” So, if it is reasonable and possible to prolong your pet’s life, to provide a good to excellent quality of life, and you feel you are doing the right thing for your pet and your situation, then together we will do everything we’ve been trained to do on behalf of your pet. Because extending a patient’s good quality life is the best reason to treat cancer. However, if it ever becomes obvious that therapy is not working, or that your pet is experiencing pain or discomfort, then we will inform you immediately.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is primarily designed to achieve tumour control in localized area. It is often used in conjunction with surgery to try to cure cases where surgery alone is either not possible or where it would result in significant disfigurement or loss of function. Our treatment goal is to deliver the optimal doses of radiation necessary to kill cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue. Many tumours with locally aggressive behavior can be controlled or even cured with a combination of surgery and radiation therapy.

What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

Most of the side effects of radiation therapy are mild and self limiting. Severe radiation toxicity is an uncommon thing in veterinary medicine, especially in patients treated with advanced fieldshaping techniques.

When is surgery required?

Surgery is the oldest treatment for cancer and, as a single modality, cures more animals (and people) with cancer than any other treatment. Healing from surgery is usually rapid and complete and the results in terms of cosmetics, function, and owner acceptance are excellent in most cases.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of certain drugs alone, or in combination to control tumour growth. The goal is to eliminate as many malignant cells as possible while leaving enough normal cells to regain normal function.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

While animals rarely experience severe chemotherapy side effects the way people do, some patients have transient symptoms that can be of concern if you are unsure what is causing them or what you should do. Gastrointestinal signs such as decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting are most common. Fortunately, simple strategies and treatments usually allow you to successfully manage these complications at home. Your veterinarian can give you specific information depending upon which side effects are present.

What if infection following chemotherapy is suspected?

DO NOT WAIT OVERNIGHT! Call us at WVCC immediately. This situation can be treated rapidly and almost always successfully, but appropriate antibiotic therapy is absolutely essential.

Can chemotherapy put my family at risk?

Chemotherapy drugs are excreted from the animal’s body usually within 72 hours following treatment, although it may be as long as 5 days for doxorubicin. Drug residues may also be present in other body fluids, such as vomit. We recommend that you try to have your pet urinate and defecate in an area away from the immediate yard, and especially play areas. Cat boxes should be changed regularly, and waste material handled with a scoop. People and other household pets living with treated pets are generally thought not to be at any health risk. However, women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should not handle ANY animal waste or chemotherapy drugs. In addition, if any family member living with a pet undergoing chemotherapy has a condition that causes suppression of the immune system, it is important to discuss this with the cancer care team at WVCC as well as the physician caring for this person.

What is “remission”?

“Remission” is not a cure. It is a time interval during which there are no outward signs that the patient has cancer. Considering the relative life span of animals, increasing the period in which they can enjoy a good quality of life – for months or even years – is significant.

Rehabilitation: What is “normal” now?

Once a pet has recovered from cancer surgery, completed their course of radiotherapy, or finished the initial phase of chemotherapy, restrictions on activities are very few. Cancer patients may be more easily fatigued with strenuous activity, so moderation is best in the beginning. However, daily walks and “playtime” are strongly encouraged, and your pet is likely to become more fit over time. You should work with your family veterinarian and the cancer care team at WVCC to design an activity program that is individually tailored to meet your pet’s needs and your lifestyle.