Information on Cancer in Animals

Pet Cancer Treatment at PetCare Veterinary Hospital

Cancer is a chronic disease in which a group of cells undergo an uncontrolled division, invade into adjacent tissues, and sometimes spread to other locations in the body via lymph or blood, termed as metastasis. Most cancers form a tumor but some, like leukemia blood cancer, or liquid tumors, do not. The branch of medicine concerned with the study, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer is oncology.

Cancer is found in animals as well as humans. It is one of the leading causes of death in companion animals over 10 years of age. Unfortunately, the cause of most cancers is not known and, therefore, prevention is difficult. Nearly all cancers are caused by abnormalities in the genetic material of the transformed cells. These abnormalities may be due to the effects of carcinogens, errors in DNA replication, and so on. Early detection and treatment are the best ways to manage neoplasia (formation or existence of tumors) in pets.

Cancer can be suspected based on a petís medical history and physical exam. Additional tests, such as radiographs (X-rays), blood tests, ultrasound exams, or CT scans, may be necessary to confirm neoplasia. A biopsy, with microscopic examination by a pathologist, is the gold standard to confirm a diagnosis of cancer. Tumor evaluation or tumor staging is performed after a diagnosis to determine the extent of the tumor. Staging information helps determine the prognosis and develop an effective or palliative plan for treatment.

Cancer is not a single disease but rather a broader term that can include several different types. Each type of cancer is treated differently either with a single or combination of treatment therapies depending on the type of cancer. Common modalities of cancer therapy include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, cryosurgery (freezing), hyperthermia (heating), and immunotherapy (cancer vaccine). Pain management is also an important part of treatment. Some types of cancers can be cured, while others are managed with the goal of decreasing spread of disease, prolonging life, and improving a petís comfort and quality of life.

Kelly Carlsten, DVM, Diplomate DACVIM