Cancer and Your Pets: What You Need to Know
December 04, 2008
Almost everyone has known a friend or loved one who has been
affected by cancer. While cancer in humans is definitely prevalent,
our pets are also afflicted with this disease.
According to Dr. Heather Wilson, assistant professor of oncology
at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and
Biomedical Sciences, 50 percent of all dogs and 30 percent of all
cats over the age of 10 will be diagnosed with some form of
Types of cancers most common in dogs include: lymphoma (tumor of
the lymph nodes), mast cell tumors (skin tumors), and osteosarcoma
(tumor of the bones). Some common types of cancer in cats are:
lymphoma, squamous cell carcinoma (which affects the head, neck and
mouth), and vaccine associated sarcomas.
"Cats are not nearly as prone to cancer as dogs, but one of the
most common cancers in cats comes from vaccine injection sites,"
notes Wilson. "While you can pick and choose some vaccinations,
rabies vaccinations are required by law. However, there is a
non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine for cats that is less irritating,
thus less likely to cause cancer and is available at most
The type of cancer your pet has can also be closely associated
with its breed. In dogs, lymphoma is most common in Golden
Retrievers, Boxers, and Labs. Mast cell tumors are common in dogs
with short noses such as boxers, pugs, and bulldogs. Large breed
dogs such as Rottweilers and Great Danes are more prone to
"There is very little distinction across breeds when it comes to
cancer in cats," states Wilson. "However, cancer most commonly
affects the Siamese breed of cats."
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed your pet with cancer you
will then want to find a veterinary oncologist in your area that
specializes in your pet's specific cancer.
"There are veterinary oncologists that specialize in medical
oncology and radiation oncology. There are also surgeons that
specialize in surgical oncology," explains Wilson. "The best way to
find a medical oncologist in your area is to go to the American
College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) website at
Treatment options range from chemotherapy, surgery, radiation
therapy, and immunotherapy and are administered depending on the
type and severity of the cancer.
"Chemotherapy is the number one treatment option for animals
with lymphoma," says Wilson."While cure rates in dogs vary greatly
with the type of cancer, overall response rates for dogs with
lymphoma treated with the CHOP chemotherapy protocol (a multidrug
protocol given weekly over 19 weeks) is greater than 80
Response rates for dogs with mast cell tumors varies depending
on the grade, but with complete surgical excision plus radiation
for low grade tumors the control rates is often greater than 80
percent at three years.
"Unfortunately, the majority of dogs with osteosarcoma and
metastatic disease do not achieve a cure," states Wilson. "Also,
most cancers in cats are also very hard to cure. When we do achieve
remission in cats with vaccine associated sarcomas, they often live
18-24 months before they have a recurrence."
Cost is another important thing to consider when deciding on the
treatment of an animal for cancer. While costs range widely, the
average cost for a surgery is $2,000-$3000; Chemotherapy regimen is
$1,200-$3,000, and radiation averages $3,000.
"As cost is prohibitive to some families, a good option may be
to enter your pet into a clinical trial if possible," notes Wilson.
"Many of these trials have a financial incentive such as a free
treatment regimen, and they also help with future research for both
veterinary and human oncology."
For more information on clinical trials at Texas A&M
University's College of Veterinary Medicine, go to vetmed.tamu.edu/clinical-trials.
While cancer in pets can be extremely stressful for owners, the
good news is that with the amount of resources and specialists that
are now available to treat cancer in pets, owners now have the
power to make informed and responsible decisions to get their
beloved pets through this illness.
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