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Pets are treated for cancer at WestVet’ Animal Cancer Treatment Center every month. In honor of Pet Cancer Awareness month, this blog outlines a few signs and symptoms of cancer in animals. 

November has been designated as National Pet Cancer Awareness Month as a continuing effort to educate pet owners about the prevalence, detection and treatment of pet cancers. WestVet is pleased to offer the services of Dr. Carrie Hume, Idaho’s first Veterinary Oncologist.Dr. Carrie Hume, Idaho's First Veterinary Oncologist offers cancer treatments at WestVet In addition, we will be providing a full spectrum of treatments for pets suffering from cancer including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Detecting cancer in your pet. The first line of defense for pet owners is regular, routine veterinary care.

“An annual examination is a great time to evaluate a pet for signs of cancer,” Dr. Hume said. “Veterinarians give their patients full physical examinations yearly; this will include listening to the heart and lungs, looking for any new lumps and bumps, feeling the lymph nodes, touching the belly to check for any pain or tumors, and evaluating for muscle or bone pain. Any abnormality can be investigated further to look for evidence of cancer.”

If your family veterinarian is suspicious of cancer, you may receive a referral for advanced oncology care with Dr. Hume at WestVet.  She routinely performs several additional tests in partnership with the pathologists who lead the WestVet Diagnostics Laboratory to quickly confirm the diagnosis of cancer and its severity.

For tumors inside and outside of the body, a needle can withdraw cells for analysis. Internal cancers can be visualized with the use of x-rays, ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans. Blood and urine can be analyzed to assess organ function and to look for cancerous cells that may be circulating in the blood.

“The results of these tests also often determine the extent, or stage of the cancer,” Dr. Hume said. “The stage often dictates what treatment options are available and provides more specific information regarding how quickly the cancer is expected to progress.”

Common signs and symptoms. Similar to human medicine, the earlier cancer is detected, the better chance of effective treatments for both dogs and cats. Below is a list of a few indications of cancer in animals which include, but are not limited to:

  • Lumps that grow quicklyWestVet offers Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy for Veterinary patients.
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sudden weakness
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent lameness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Dr. Hume noted that while any animal may develop cancer, there are some specific breeds and types of cancers to be aware of:

  • Lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell tumors are common in Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers
  • Histiocytic Sarcoma is common in Bernese Mountain Dogs and Flat Coated Retrievers
  • Bone tumors are common in Greyhounds, Great Danes, and Rottweilers.

As far as prevention goes, one of the best ways to prevent mammary cancer in both female dogs and cats is to have them spayed before their first heat. Dr Hume says this simple action decreases the risk tremendously.

After a cancer diagnosis. Once the information is complete, there are numerous factors to consider when determining the best course of treatment, including if treatment will be successful. Determining whether or not to treat a pet’s cancer is a personal, and often very hard, decision; a consultation with a veterinary oncologist can be helpful in determining the best plan for a family.

Treatment options include medication, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.  Frequently, a combination of treatments may be needed to provide the best outcome.  However, sometimes, the recommendation may be not to pursue treatment as there are some types of cancers in animals that cannot be cured or put in remission for a significant amount of time.

Overall the common goal is simply to make an animal feel better for as long as possible.  “Regardless of the treatment that is recommended, my job as a veterinary oncologist is to keep my patients happy. Therefore, aggressive cancer treatment protocols that have a high risk of significant side effects are often avoided.”

“In addition to helping owners choose the right path for their pet and family, it is also my job to help them recognize suffering and the time when bad days are outnumbering the good days.  Regardless of the decisions made, early diagnosis and a trusting, open relationship with a veterinarian can make a difficult time easier.”

Pet Cancer Awareness Month. In 2005 Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) partnered with the Animal Cancer Foundation to launch November as Pet Cancer Awareness Month. In 2012 VPI processed more than 55,000 claims for cancer diagnosis and treatments in pets. This puts cancer-related conditions collectively as one of the most common type of medical clams received.

This year, throughout the month, VPI will donate $5 to The Animal Cancer Foundation (up to $10,000) for social media posts that use the hashtag #CurePetCancer. This includes photos, stories or posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

To date, VPI has raised more than $160,000 to benefit the ACF.

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