Living With Canine Cancer

Dogs, like humans, are susceptible to developing cancer as they age. The skin, digestive system, and breast are the most prevalent sites of manifestation in females.

My dog has a tumor, according to the veterinarian; is this cancer?

Cancer-related terminology and terminologies might be baffling to the uninitiated. Tumors (also known as growths) are either malignant or noncancerous, depending on their function in the body.

A tumor is the result of the uncontrolled proliferation of cells at the microscopic level (known as cells). The abnormal growth of a mass inside an organ prevents it from functioning as it should, resulting in illness. A subset of tumors, known as in situ tumors, are not cancerous because they do not spread beyond the organ or tissue in which they originated. Some tumors, named malignant because they may spread inside the body, are not confined to one area.

The root of the problem: what triggers cancer. Have I been at fault in any way?

Statistically, certain dog breeds seem to be at a higher risk for developing particular forms of cancer than others, and there are factors that tend to increase the likelihood of developing cancer overall. While it is well-established that spaying a female dog before the age of two lowers her chance of developing breast tumors, direct correlations with canine food and lifestyle have not yet been thoroughly investigated.

If so, what signs should I look for?

The symptoms of cancer are so diverse since it may affect any organ or bodily system. Not only are many of the symptoms shared by a wide variety of illnesses, but symptoms alone cannot be used to diagnose cancer.

If you see any of the following benign or malignant tumor symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment with your vet.

  • A lump on the surface of the skin
  • A sore that won’t heal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Limping
  • Repeated digestive or tummy problems

These can be signs of many other illnesses too, so it’s a good idea to take your pet to the vet. Even though cancers may be slow growing, they can sometimes cause sudden signs of illness.

What happens next?

It is not common practice for a veterinarian to be able to visually confirm a cancer diagnosis in a pet. The use of blood testing for cancer screening is just getting started. Extra diagnostic measures, such as bloodwork and x-rays, are often required.

Imaging with an ultrasound or MRI could be advised. Veterinarians use them to aid in “staging,” the process of determining whether or not cancer has spread to other parts of the body. They may also show how well your pet is doing generally, which is important since it impacts how well they will respond to therapy.

A biopsy (removal of a tiny tissue sample for microscopic analysis) may be used to determine the nature of the tumor and whether or not it is malignant. An accurate diagnosis isn’t always easy to come by; for instance, biopsies don’t always have enough high-quality material when inspected under a microscope.

How do you cure it, exactly?

There are many different kinds of tumors, and both benign and malignant tumors may be treated. Surgical removal of a localized mass that has not migrated to other parts of the body offers the best chance of success. However, the situation changes depending on the location of the tumor. In animals, even a benign tumor in a difficult-to-reach place like the brain is impossible to eradicate without extensive surgery. Treatment options for cancers that have spread internally vary on the specific form of cancer and the extent to which it has spread. However, your veterinarian will certainly advise euthanasia if your pet is in unbearable pain and quality.

Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are the three mainstays of medical care. Additional novel medicines, including as photodynamic therapy and immunotherapy, may potentially be an option. In certain cases, it’s crucial that medication be administered at regular intervals, necessitating repeated trips to either your regular veterinarian or a specialist.

Skin tumors, as well as seemingly separate interior growths, are common surgical candidates. It is common practice to analyze the surgically excised lump to determine the likelihood of cancer spreading. When a large tumor within the body is to blame for a disease, surgery may alleviate the symptoms, but the chance of recurrence always exists.

Several types of cancer respond well to chemotherapy. Since the amounts used in veterinary chemotherapy are far lower than those in people, adverse effects are uncommon, if not nonexistent. Unfortunately, the cancer is not cured; rather, it is slowed down and the symptoms are lessened.

If cancer has not been completely removed after surgery, chemotherapy may be administered afterward in an effort to prevent a recurrence. It’s also used for malignancies that have progressed too far to be removed surgically, such as those that have affected the white blood cells (leukemias). Your regular veterinarian may be able to administer chemotherapy, but there are other forms that may only be administered by experts.

There is a high likelihood that sedation may be required for veterinary procedures, making routine visits vital. It’s possible that a tablet form of administration will be required. Chemotherapy may cause temporary stomach issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. When taking some medications, it is common practice to monitor white blood cell counts to ensure they aren’t falling too low and increasing the risk of infection.

Few medical facilities provide radiotherapy. Once again, it is not frequently curative and maintenance treatment over time is usually required. Short doses of general anesthetic are used before each procedure since your pet must remain perfectly calm throughout the procedure.

Is cancer treatment for animals ethical?

Veterinarians know how important it is to ensure their patients’ animals are comfortable at all times, and the analgesics available today do an excellent job of accomplishing this goal. In the end, all animals with terminal cancer will be in pain and have little quality left in their lives. In such a case, you and your veterinarian should work together to make the decision to end the animal’s life. Even if your dog has an incurable ailment, the majority of veterinarians would agree that euthanizing a healthy, happy animal is not the right choice.

What is my pet’s expected lifespan?

A precise forecast of this is impossible. A certain indication of prognosis may be gleaned from factors such as cancer kind and stage upon diagnosis, and for some cancers, more specialized testing can provide even more insight. Yet, malignancies, like other diseases, do not always progress in the same way. Unfortunately, unexpected declines are possible.

Varieties of malignant growths and malignancies

The following is by no means an all-inclusive treatment guide for the many forms of canine cancer, but it should serve as a useful introduction.

Melanomas of the skin

Most skin bumps are harmless and easily removed by surgery. If the lump is very big or located in a tricky position for surgical wound closure, removal may be more challenging. Your vet will go through this with you in detail. Certain cancers, unfortunately, have a high recurrence rate in the original location, while others have a higher rate of metastasis (spread to other parts of the body). If a very aggressive tumor is discovered, a bigger surgical excision of skin during treatment may be able to lower the risk of recurrence or spread, therefore biopsies may be useful.

Mast cell tumors

Dogs have a total of ten breasts, five on each side of their bellies in the form of two rows of nipples. Roughly 50% of these tumors are noncancerous and 50% are cancerous. During surgery, you may choose to have just the lump excised or to have more breast tissue removed as well. Cancers do not seem to be prevented from spreading inside by removing more tissue. Chest x-rays are recommended before surgery because to the high risk of dissemination to the lungs; however, early spread may not be detectable. Females who have breast surgery may benefit from being spayed either before or after the procedure.

Cancers of the white blood cells (leukemia and lymphoma)

The white blood cells are the target of this malignancy. Typically, a white blood cell called a lymphocyte is at fault. The lymphatic system, a network of veins and organs, provides another route for lymphocytes to go once they leave the circulation (swellings called lymph nodes are often referred to as glands). This is where the body does its first screening for potential infections and other foreign substances.

Lymphocytes multiply uncontrolled in malignant tumors. Increases in the number of lymphocytes in the blood are sometimes accompanied by nothing more than the lymphocytes staying put and multiplying. One or more lymph nodes may swell, leading to lumps in the neck or elsewhere, or the condition may spread to other organs inside the body. Cancerous lymphocytes are highly mobile and may travel throughout the body through the lymphatic system and blood (the tubes that connect the lymph nodes).

Due to the often-extensive spread of lymphoma, surgical resection is often insufficient. Without medical intervention, prognosis beyond two months is usually poor. Chemotherapy has the potential to extend this (in some instances by a year or more), albeit not all lymphomas react well. If you want to know how long your pet has, go to a veterinary surgeon about it since survival rates vary widely based on the area of the body that is damaged.

Warning signals that your pet may be in pain

  • Changes in behavior
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reluctance to move around and go for walks
  • Restlessness, difficulty in getting comfortable
  • Your pet may seem withdrawn or tense
  • An occasional “tail wag” does not mean that your pet is pain-free
  • An improvement in demeanor with painkillers (only ever give painkillers prescribed by a vet)