The treatment of pet cancer is becoming more common. Pets are living longer and we now have access to more advanced diagnostic and treatment options. We know that this can be a stressful and confusing time, and veterinary oncologists are specially trained to guide you through the next steps. These steps may include confirmation of a suspected cancer diagnosis and "staging". The diagnosis tells us what the tumour is, while staging tells us where in the body there is evidence of the cancer. Staging tests can include blood and urine tests, microscopic analysis of samples of the tumour and nearby lymph nodes by aspiration or biopsy, and imaging (often x-rays, ultrasound, CT, and/or MRI). 


Radiation may be used alone for tumour control or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy. The equipment and technology available at Western Veterinary Specialist & Emergency Centre allow precise delivery of radiation to minimize side effects. This technology also allows treatment of tumours that were once considered untreatable! Along with controlling tumour growth, radiation can relieve tumour-associated pain or other symptoms. It is delivered with an external beam by a machine called a linear accelerator (Linac). Treatment is non-invasive, like having an x-ray but at a much higher power. Your pet is not left radioactive and this treatment is an outpatient procedure.


Depending on your pet's tumour type/location and your goals, treatment schedule may vary. For some cases, patients are treated with 15 – 20 treatments on consecutive weekdays over 3 – 4 weeks. Other tumour types can be treated with stereotactic radiation therapy. This is a newer type of treatment, delivering larger individual doses with a lower total number of treatments (1 - 5). Side effects are possible, and before starting treatment, any anticipated side effects and their management will be discussed with you in detail. If you would be interested in learning more about the treatment options for your pet, a referral should be submitted by your pet's primary care veterinarian. 


How is Radiotherapy Administered?

At VCA Canada Western we use a Varian Clinac 21EX linear accelerator with on-board imaging. This radiation unit allows us to deliver an advanced radiation technique called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT). IMRT paints the dose precisely within the tumour or target area, while minimizing dose to the essential surrounding tissue. This allows us to deliver more effective treatment with reduced side effects. 

What is Radiotherapy?

Radiation therapy is a form of treatment recommended for many different types of cancers. It can be used in definitive-intent radiotherapy to kill tumor cells, or it can be used to alleviate secondary symptoms that arise from cancer in palliative-intent radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is a local treatment option that targets the tumour or the source of the symptoms. It may be used as a stand-alone treatment but is commonly used as part of a broader cancer treatment plan for your pet. This broader cancer treatment plan may include other treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and/or immunotherapy. Radiation therapy plays a crucial role in treating over 50% of human cancer patients and plays an important role in treating pet cancer patients too.

Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Oncologist?

Just as in humans, a pet with cancer typically needs the help of an oncologist to help diagnose and treat their disease. Above all, a veterinary oncologist will help you understand your pet's condition, what treatment options are available to them and what the expected outcomes may be. They will help you determine the most appropriate course of treatment that meets the needs of you and your pet and facilitate their therapy. Veterinary oncologists also frequently serve as consultants to veterinarians in private practice to ensure that their patients receive the best treatment possible for their cancer. You can be assured that a veterinarian who refers you and your pet to a veterinary oncologist is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of care for his or her illness.


While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to simply consult with the veterinary oncologist about your pet's care, in other cases it is necessary to actually refer you and your pet to the veterinary oncologist for more advanced diagnostics and treatment. Board certified veterinary oncologists also have access to specialized diagnostic or treatment tools such as radiation therapy machines that a general practice veterinarian may not have.

Our Radiation Oncology Team

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