Petco Foundation Grant Assists Patients Working To BTHO Cancer

Story by Dorian Martin

A black dog and a brown dog lay down under a tree
FlapJack and Papillion

From the moment Flapjack was adopted as a puppy from the Houston Humane Society in 2008, he became an integral part of his new family.

“He was super smart from the time we got him,” said Flapjack’s owner Robert Schmidt. “He was very inquisitive and he seemed tuned in with the world, not just in a puppy or a dog way, but in a sentient way.”

Flapjacks’s ability to provide empathetic support was critical when Schmidt’s first wife, Lori, developed cancer in 2015.

“When somebody is dealing with a terminal illness, a lot of your friends and family don’t know how to react so they stop coming around as much,” he remembered. “Flapjack and his sister and brother were often the only shoulder to cry on while Lori was going through her illness and when she passed away in 2017.”

Soon after, Flapjack came to need support of his own.

In 2018, Schmidt took the dog to Springtown Veterinary in San Marcos for a dental cleaning and agreed to have a discounted ultrasound while Flapjack was sedated. That test identified a tiny, possibly cancerous tumor on Flapjack’s bladder, so Schmidt asked for a referral to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH).

After the tumor was confirmed as bladder cancer, his initial conversations with the VMTH staff were difficult.

“When I went there and talked to some of the doctors and the oncology nurses, they painted a bleak picture,” he said, “and I believed it because I got the same talk in 2015 when my wife was diagnosed with cancer.”

Despite being unsure that surgery could cure the cancer, Schmidt and the VMTH Oncology Service decided to do everything possible to try to heal Flapjack, despite the cost.

Thanks to the talented veterinary surgeons, Flapjack’s operation was successful. They removed the entire tumor and, in subsequent check-ups, found that the cancer has not returned.

“I’m a realist and every checkup I expect a recurrence,” Schmidt said. “They had said that he would probably not be here by now, a year-and-a-half later.

“If we hadn’t found the tumor and if it weren’t for the good people in Springtown Veterinary suggesting the ultrasound, Dr. Dan Allen (Flapjack’s veterinarian) being quick and giving me the referral to A&M, and the good work of the VMTH staff, he wouldn’t be with us,” he said.

Schmidt was overjoyed to return home with Flapjack, but he also was concerned about paying off a bill for $12,000, the total cost to treat the bladder cancer.

Three people and two dogs sit in front of the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital entrance
From left: Robert Schmidt, Papillion, wife Kandi, FlapJack, and lead veterinary technician for Oncology Service Jaci Christensen

Fortunately, the VMTH and Petco Foundation were able to help with a Pet Cancer Treatment grant.

The Petco grant, awarded to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) in 2019, stipulated that the grant’s funds assist pet owners facing extensive costs in treating their animal’s cancer. In the time since, several pet owners have tapped into these funds to defray costs.

The financial support from Petco and other funding sources helped Schmidt greatly.

“You don’t realize how generous people are when it comes to your animal family,” he said. “It always chokes me up when someone tells me that they’ve given a gift for Flapjack’s treatment because it renews my faith in people. I love Flapjack like my son and companies like Petco recognize that and do things to take some of the pressure off of you so you can worry about making your animal well. It’s a huge blessing.”

A Company That Cares

The Pet Cancer Treatment grant program primarily supports cancer treatments at large- and medium-sized oncology departments in colleges of veterinary medicine.

“This grant helps pet owners with the pretty extensive costs associated with cancer therapy in animals,” said Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, CVM associate professor and Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology. “It is meant to help people pay for those things so that they can actually get their animals treated if they want to.”

The Petco Foundation grant is the only industry grant funding that the oncology team, which is the second-most used service in the VMTH behind the emergency room, has received to support patient care.

“We’re extremely grateful for all of our donors, but the Petco Foundation funds have allowed us to do a lot more for clients because it is such a large donation,” Wilson-Robles said.

The grant’s funds provide an important financial resource for care that can quickly escalate and for innovative therapies that may benefit the pet.

“Since we’re an integrated service, almost all our patients will receive multimodality therapy, which is what tends to make it expensive,” Wilson-Robles said. “Many of them have preoperative radiation, then they’ll have surgery, then they’ll get chemo. The cost really does build up.

“Also, if there is a fairly novel or new treatment and we’re thinking outside the box, sometimes that costs money,” she said. “We can support the owner and not feel like we’re charging them for something when we don’t know what the outcome’s going to be.”

The Petco grant has also been a boon for the VMTH’s staff.

“It’s been huge for morale, especially for some of the house officers (who serve as liaisons between clients and clinicians). They’re on the front lines, and they get really attached to these patients and clients over time,” Wilson-Robles said. “For the house officers to be able to say, ‘The clients are out of money; is there any way we can help them with these funds?’ and for us be able to say ‘Yes’ really helps them feel good.”

Today, at 12 years old, Flapjack is still healthy, active, and cancer-free.

“He’s doing well and hopefully he’ll live a full life and another three, four, or five years,” Schmidt said. “When you see him, he’s really like a puppy. He doesn’t look like a 12-year-old dog. He’s just a little happy rambunctious puppy dog.”

Like Flapjack, many beloved pets will benefit from the Petco grant. Their owners and the VMTH oncology staff can focus on doing everything possible to BTHO cancer, knowing the Petco Foundation is there to support them.

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Note: A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CVM Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Petco Foundation Grants: Supporting The Fight Against Cancer

Story by Dorian Martin

Cannon Lenfield hugs his brown dog Liberty in a field of bluebonnets
Cannon Lenfield and Liberty

Like most college students, Cannon Lenfield ‘20 didn’t have a lot of extra funds on hand when his 9-year-old dog, Liberty, was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2018. Yet the Texas A&M University student proved to be very resourceful in finding ways to pay for his dog’s treatment.

“At that point, I had just paid tuition and couldn’t afford to pay any more at the moment,” explained Lenfield, who didn’t have canine health insurance. “There was no way Liberty was going to be able to receive treatment any longer without help.”

A student worker in VMTH’s Small Animal Hospital Gastrointestinal Laboratory at the time, Lenfield paid for most of Liberty’s treatment on his own, which required him to buckle down financially.

“I definitely couldn’t buy a lot of stupid things anymore; I stopped eating out and stuff like that,” he said. “I knew that it was going to take a lot of money to pay for it so I doubled my hours.”

Lenfield was so committed to ensuring Liberty’s care that after being in a motorcycle accident, he reallocated an insurance payment to help pay the bill.

“My bike still worked so I didn’t need the money,” he said. “I was fine.”

Fortunately, Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) was able to step in to offer him support through the Petco Foundation Pet Cancer Treatment grant, which was established in early 2019. This grant provides financial assistance to pet owners who have modest means or whose pets have provided a service to others.

The timing of receiving these funds was especially helpful in Liberty’s case.

A Friend For Life

Lenfield was a boy when his family adopted the mixed-breed puppy from a kill shelter. They decided to name the dog Liberty because she was scheduled to be euthanized on Sept. 11 but was rescued on Sept. 10.

The young boy and pup quickly formed a tight bond and grew even closer in the ensuing years. Lenfield opted to bring her to college with him so he could spend time with her between his classes and studies.

A group of veterinarians and veterinary technicians
The Oncology team at Texas A&M University

“She was definitely my best friend,” he said.

When the dog reached the age of 9, she started displaying signs of ill health.

“While I was on vacation, the dog sitter noticed a lump on both sides of her neck, in her lymph nodes,” the public health graduate said. “I took her to the veterinarian the day that I got back and they told me that she probably had cancer.”

Lenfield immediately turned to the VMTH’s oncology staff—who confirmed the diagnosis—to oversee Liberty’s treatment.

“Obviously, they were going to be the best help that I could get,” he said. “Plus, there’s no one else in the area that offers treatment for lymphoma.”

The Best Treatment For A Best Friend

After deciding to pursue treatment at the VMTH, Lenfield found that that care wasn’t cheap.

“We use a lot of the human-level drugs and equipment, but we don’t have insurance to help support that,” said Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, an associate professor and Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology. “We keep our prices as low as we can, but unfortunately, it’s still expensive.”

Liberty initially qualified for a study that helped cover a portion of the initial treatment cost.

“That helped pay for a portion of the costs and then after that, anything additional was on me,” Lenfield said. “I got the Petco funds later, but in between there and then it was all me.”

The VMTH’s staff was excited to be able to offer Lenfield the funds because they were so impressed by his commitment to Liberty.

A brown dog sitting in a yard smiling
Liberty

“He was trying so hard to do everything for this dog. We had sort of piecemealed treatments for him as much as we could—we put her on any studies we could and looked for anything we could do to help him pay for things,” said Wilson-Robles. “Finally, we got to a point where we didn’t have any studies she qualified for and he just wasn’t sure he could afford treatment, so we offered him the Petco funds. He just started sobbing because he was just so grateful because he didn’t have to stop. This dog was his family. He didn’t have any other family in town.”

“I didn’t think happy tears were real until I got the financial assistance to care for Liberty, Lenfield said.

Worth Every Penny

Sadly, despite her treatments, Liberty succumbed to her lymphoma in September 2019, but throughout it all, Lenfield had no doubt that the VMTH veterinary staff was focused on providing Liberty the best care possible.

“I can’t say enough how awesome these people are,” Lenfield said. “They truly are a wonderful group of people and there’s no one else in the world I would’ve rather treated my dog. They are some of the most caring, compassionate and knowledgeable people this world has to offer and will do everything in their power to take care of you and your animal.”

Lenfield said given the chance, he would take the same course of action all over again.

“If you have the money, you should definitely spend it. She was there for me for eight years and I only had to do it for one year. Up until then I only fed her,” he said. “I would never take any of the money back. I spent like $1,500 in the last week she was alive and even that week was worth $1,500.”

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Note: A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CVM Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

A K-9’s Courage

Search and recovery dog Remington is now enjoying retirement thanks to the care he received from the Small Animal Hospital’s Oncology Service.

Story by Megan Myers

Racheal Crivelli hugging Remington
Rachael Crivelli and Remington

It was a training day like any other when Rachael Crivelli noticed that her dog Remington, a search and recovery canine for the Navasota Fire Department, developed a limp after slipping during an agility course obstacle.

Remington was still limping two days later, but Crivelli’s local veterinarian was unable to provide a diagnosis.

Soon after, Crivelli met Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), at an urban search and rescue (USAR) training event and was encouraged to take Remington to the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital (SAH), where a team of specialists could work to discover the cause of the limp.

After several tests and visits with various SAH services, Remington was diagnosed with a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor, a common, but often misdiagnosed, form of cancer.

Crivelli, who had worked with the 8-year-old Labrador Retriever mix for nearly his entire life, was heartbroken by this diagnosis. But knowing how much Remington had done to serve others, she decided to do whatever it would take to get him back on his feet.

“They say a dog will let you know when it’s time to go,” Crivelli said. “Remington was letting me know he had a lot of life to live.”

A Life Of Service

Crivelli felt a call to serve and began her career as a firefighter following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

She rescued Remington when he was only 4 weeks old and soon after began training him for an important role—locating human remains, whether it be a deceased body or the smallest drop of blood, following a crisis like 9/11.

Together, they have volunteered to search for human remains at crime scenes and disaster sites across the state, even contributing to a 30-year-old cold case in South Texas.

Crivelli and Remington in a water rescue boat approaching a flooded car
Remington at work

“We have searched a burnt house that somebody was suspected to have been murdered at and Remington assisted in locating the exact room where the person died,” Crivelli said.

“We deployed during Hurricane Harvey and searched in neighborhoods for anybody who could have been deceased,” she said. “Luckily, we didn’t have to locate anybody during Hurricane Harvey.”

In addition to this work, Remington also served as a mascot for New Caney Fire Department for several years and then for Navasota Fire Department until his cancer diagnosis and subsequent retirement.

“He would go to public relations events to greet members of the public,” Crivelli said. “Having a K-9 allowed firefighters to be more approachable; people or kids who might have too much anxiety to approach firefighters normally were always more comfortable with Remington around.

“He also was a great comfort after making tough calls,” she said. “We would come back from a CPR call or a fatality wreck and it was interesting to see Remington go up to all the firefighters and let them pet him. He knew when people needed loving from a big furry teddy bear. Even on searches, he would comfort the searchers, as well as the victim’s family.

“That’s what I miss most with him being retired,” Crivelli said. “He was a comfort dog more than a search dog at times.”

Fighting For Remington

Rachael Crivelli, Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, and Remington outside the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital
Rachael Crivelli, Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, and Remington

Remington’s tumor ran from the spinal canal to where the femoral nerve entered his right hind leg, causing him significant pain and requiring an intensive surgery of several hours for removal.

“This type of tumor is not very common but often misdiagnosed early on because initially, the signs are so gray,” said Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology. “It’s very common for these dogs to be lame for up to six months and have several rounds of X-rays, yet their veterinarians never find anything wrong. Eventually, when they come in here, they are very painful or the atrophy is so severe that it is now obvious.”

Crivelli, a cancer survivor herself, knew that Remington had more life in him and deserved the opportunity to beat his cancer.

“His job was to assist families and law enforcement with justice by helping provide answers,” she said. “He fought for those who couldn’t fight, so I had to give him a chance to fight for himself.”

Wustefeld-Janssens and a team of oncologists and neurologists removed the right side of Remington’s pelvis and his leg, opened the last three intervertebral spaces, and cut the femoral nerve as close to the spinal cord as possible.

“The cutting of the nerve is a really important step because, number one, we hope to remove the entire tumor, and, two, if there are no pain signals back to the spinal cord, these dogs feel much better,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

After surgery, Remington recovered quickly and was soon cruising on three legs. As is typical for dogs who have undergone an amputation, he improved greatly once the source of his pain was gone.

“Dogs are incredible in that we can remove half of Remington’s pelvis and a big part of his back, and then two weeks later he’s running and jumping over small walls,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

Supporting Our K-9 Heroes

Jason Johnson, Rachael Crivelli, and Remington in front of a Navasota fire engine
Jason Johnson, Rachael Crivelli, and Remington

Luckily, Crivelli wasn’t alone in her support for Remington. After he was diagnosed, she reached out to Project K-9 Hero, a national nonprofit organization that helps fund medical care for retired police K-9s and military working dogs.

“I purchased a bag of Sport dog food and on the back of it was a story about Project K-9 Hero,” Crivelli said. “It’s for police and military dogs, but Remington’s a search and fire dog. I thought, ‘I’ll just try,’ so I filled out their application and two hours later I got a call from the founder, Jason Johnson, who said Remington was accepted to the program.”

Project K-9 Hero covered Remington’s full surgery cost with funds raised entirely through donations. As a K-9 Hero, Remington will also receive free food and medical care for the rest of his life.

“We felt that because of his age and because of how much life he had left in him, providing the surgery was going to allow him to live a high-quality life for the next couple years, hopefully,” Johnson said. “We’re honored to serve heroes like Remington, heroes who dedicated their careers to protecting our communities.”

Semi-retirement

Remington shaved and with three legs
Remington after his surgery

With 34 deployments and six confirmed finds on his résumé, Remington has earned the right to a relaxing semi-retirement from his search and recovery career.

He now spends most of his time at home with Crivelli’s family, while continuing to greet citizens and help the Navasota Fire Department with public relations. He also is serving as a Project K-9 Hero representative to help other K-9s receive the same support he did.

“I’m grateful for Texas A&M surgeons, students, and technicians, and for Project K-9 Hero’s financial support,” Crivelli said. “I feel I made the right decision to have a very major surgery done. I don’t think he would’ve survived this surgery if we went anywhere else.

“Remington appears to be feeling better than he has in years,” Crivelli said. “He is playing ball, swimming, and just loving life.”

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Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of CVM Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Texas A&M Radiation Oncology Team Treats Baylor Mascot With Therapy Never Before Used On Bear

While there are two other bear thymoma cases noted in veterinary literature, Judge Lady is the first to be treated with TomoTherapy, a system found at only one other veterinary school in the U.S.

Story by Megan Myers, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

 

Lady sitting in the sun at the bears’ off-campus enrichment facility
Lady sitting in the sun at the bears’ off-campus enrichment facility. Photo credit: Matthew Minard/Baylor University

Judge Sue “Lady” Sloan is no ordinary American black bear.

In Waco, Lady holds a distinguished role as one of Baylor University’s two live animal mascots.

She also has the luxury of regular veterinary care from zoological specialists at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH).

When these veterinary specialists discovered a benign mass called a thymoma in Lady’s chest, they teamed up with other VMTH services to deliver a course of treatment never before used on a bear—stereotactic body radiation therapy using the TomoTherapy system.

This treatment has the potential to completely stop the tumor’s growth while also preserving the 17-year-old bear’s quality of life, which is the utmost goal of both her veterinarians and her care team from Baylor.

Lady was diagnosed with her thymoma in summer 2019, when she arrived in College Station for a routine checkup with CVM professor emerita Dr. Sharman Hoppes.

“For a checkup of a large animal like this, we do a full workup including blood work, physical exam under anesthesia, and imaging,” said associate professor Dr. J. Jill Heatley, zoological medicine specialist who joined the case later that summer. “Based on numerous radiographs, we found this mass in the chest. Gwendolyn Levine, one of the radiologists, got a really good sample and one of our clinical pathology specialists told us told us it’s an epithelial inclusive thymoma.”

Lady enters the TomoTherapy system with a veterinary technician by her side
Lady was treated for a benign thymoma with the TomoTherapy System. Photo credit: Matthew Minard/Baylor University

When plans for treatment began, Heatley recruited Dr. Lauren Smith, CVM clinical assistant professor and radiation oncologist, to figure out the best way to deliver precise, effective treatment to Lady’s tumor, which was already larger than a softball.

Only two other cases of thymomas in bears exist in veterinary literature, one of which was found after the bear had died and the other was only found after the bear began showing signs that something was wrong.

“The good news for Lady is that she’s completely asymptomatic; she has no clinical signs of the mass, which means that we caught it early,” Smith said. “Early detection is key with cancer. Being able to intervene at an early point is why we have a very positive outlook for her.”

They decided that Lady’s best treatment option was stereotactic body radiation therapy, which uses many beams of high-energy photons to deliver large doses of radiation to the tumor and spare surrounding tissues.

Although there is no record of this form of treatment ever being used on a bear, Smith said it was a good patient-based treatment option because it allowed Lady to go home between treatments and avoid complications, side effects, or risks associated with surgery.

“This treatment plan allows Lady to spend as little time in the hospital as possible and keeps her quality of life first, as well as gives her the best chance moving forward,” Smith said.

To apply this form of radiation therapy, Lady would need to be anesthetized and placed inside the TomoTherapy system, a unique technology that is only used in veterinary medicine in one other hospital in the world.

A team of VMTH staff prepares Lady to enter the TomoTherapy system.
A team of VMTH staff prepares Lady to enter the TomoTherapy system.

“What makes TomoTherapy unique is that we treat these tumors in a slice-by-slice fashion,” Smith said. “We get millions of opportunities to get a dose into the tumor while avoiding normal tissues; it allows us to have much better and more conformal plans and much tighter doses of distributions to the tumor itself. Where TomoTherapy shines in cancer treatment across the world is treating tumors with complex shapes and geometries.

“Lady’s tumor is sitting right up in front of the heart and between the lungs, so we’re trying to get really high ablative doses to kill this tumor while it’s sitting in between those fairly sensitive, important structures,” she said. “TomoTherapy allows us that opportunity to still treat aggressively with these cancers while maintaining good quality of life. This is probably the first large exotic animal treated with TomoTherapy.”

TomoTherapy offers another benefit in that it has onboard CT imaging capabilities; during Lady’s three doses of treatment, the CT scanner was used to make sure she was in the exact same position every day.

“TomoTherapy allows us to compare the original CT scan with the CT scan of the day to make sure she aligns to the sub-millimeter so that we’re delivering treatment as precisely as possible,” Smith said.

During her treatments, Lady was accompanied and supported by Baylor students in the Baylor Bear Program and Dakota Farquhar-Caddell, associate director of student activities and the Robert L. Reid Director of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce.

“We say in the animal husbandry world that all animals deserve as many good days as possible,” Farquhar-Caddell said. “My hope is that we keep giving Lady the best days we can while she’s with us and that we do so in a way that isn’t stressful or invasive but that really helps keep her healthy and happy.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Deveau watches a screen of colorful scans to monitor Lady as she undergoes her TomoTherapy treatment
Radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Deveau monitors Lady as she undergoes her TomoTherapy treatment. Photo credit: Matthew Minard/Baylor University

“We are really lucky to be this close to Texas A&M,” he said. “The care has been exceptional. I have direct contact with many of the staff on a daily basis; they reach out to me after we get home, checking in on how Lady is doing. We’ve had great communication and conversation with them and we’re really thankful.”

With her three radiation doses now complete, Lady will return to her home at the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat in Waco, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Certified Class C Zoo facility that provides Lady and her sister, Joy, with a natural environment full of enrichment.

“Joy and Lady are a beloved part of our community, and we’re just really grateful that we have excellent care and access to resources and the ability to care for them well,” Farquhar-Caddell said. “In some ways we see our bears as ambassadors for other American black bears. They have probably the largest platform any black bear has in the country, so we use it to educate the community and for important conservation efforts.”

Likewise, Lady’s case will educate veterinarians around the world on the use of stereotactic body radiation therapy and TomoTherapy to treat difficult tumors.

By focusing on her quality of life and finding an innovative way to treat her thymoma, Lady’s veterinarians and Baylor care team have taken a monumental step forward in the veterinary care of large exotic animals.

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Interim Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Combating Pet Cancer

Cancer is a scary subject, especially when a loved one has been diagnosed. Because the first reactions and decisions can make a huge impact on treatment options and outcomes, it is important to be prepared and know what questions to ask first.

Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, uses his years of oncology experience to advise pet owners on the early steps of cancer detection and treatment.Dog

In order to get an early diagnosis, a pet with an unusual mass should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Pet owners should then be willing to do whatever is needed to ensure that a full diagnosis is made.

“Early detection and intervention can be the difference between a cure and a poor outcome, as well as the difference between a short, non-complex procedure or an expensive, extensive treatment protocol,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

Once the mass is examined, the veterinarian will need to run tests to determine if it is cancerous and, if so, what stage of cancer is present. With fine-needle aspiration, a cheap but very effective test, a hollow needle removes cells from the mass that are then viewed under a microscope to see if the tumor is malignant or benign.

If the mass is determined to be cancerous, the pet owner can begin discussing treatment options with the veterinarian.

“Get as much information as you need to make an informed decision,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “The most important aspect of all is finding a balance between being aggressive with treatment to increase the chances of a good outcome and maintaining a good quality of life.

“(At the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital) We have extensive discussions with owners about treatment options and costs that may be associated with those options,” he said.

While small, low-grade tumors may be cured with a minor, low-cost surgery, other tumors may need more extensive treatment plans. Some pets will need a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery to treat cancer, and the cost can build quickly.

Wustefeld-Janssens recommends that pet owners look into pet insurance or ask about payment plans to make the cost of cancer treatment more manageable.

One of the most important things to remember after a cancer diagnosis is to not lose hope.

“Our goal is always maintenance of a good quality of life so there may be little change to the daily routine, though some pets will be on chronic medication or need minor changes to exercise (regimens),” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

“As a group, we veterinarians are committed to supporting families and their pets through a diagnosis and treatment,” he said. “We have options and there is always something we can do.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.