Detecting Animal Cancer Early
Angel Pet Expo Blog 2019 – Submitted by Animal Hospital North Asheville
We need your help to beat cancer! Early detection, diagnosis and treatment are critical to obtaining a positive result. Over 60% of cancers are curable. We want to get that percentage even higher. Every lump and bump is suspect until proven that it is not cancer. The time to diagnose cancer is before it has taken over and spread or before it has progressed from curable to non-curable. We must all be proactive to defeat cancer.
THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO:
Check your pet for lumps and bumps at least monthly. Look with your eyes and your fingers. Please bring even small bumps to our attention. We would like to examine nodules when they are the size of a pea or smaller. Areas that deserve special attention are lymph nodes that are under and behind the lower jaw, in front of the shoulders, the “armpits” of the front legs, the groin and under the tail. It is a good idea to look for swellings or unusual paleness of the gums. Try to feel every square inch of skin. Cats with white ears are especially prone to cancer on the ear tips and nose.
Gently flip the lips and check in your pet’s mouth. There are several common oral cancers that can occur. Signs include bad breath odor, lumps or swelling on the gums, pain in the mouth, increased salivation, or blood in the mouth or saliva.
Make sure that your pet has annual physical examination every year for pets up to age 7. After age seven, consider a physical examination every 6 months. We look for many disease indicators during those physicals, but we also palpate the abdominal organs for changes and specifically palpate lymph nodes.
Have pets examined if they display symptoms of lethargy, vomiting, increasing thirst, weight loss, decreased appetite, any abnormal discharges, or any abnormalities in urination or defecation.
Elect to run “wellness” blood tests during routine physical examinations. Talk to your veterinarian about performing an ultrasound of your pet’s abdomen and an X-ray of your pet’s chest to detect cancer early. Pets can’t tell us that something seems wrong like people can, so doing screening test to look for early signs is important.
Don’t smoke! Recent studies show pets that live with smokers have higher levels of asthma, and have three times higher levels of lymphosarcoma and six times higher level of oral squamous cell carcinoma.
Brush your pet’s teeth regularly and make sure that your pet has a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia yearly. Oral cancer can occur because some cells become cancerous just from exposure to a chronic irritant such as tartar, which also causes gingivitis and periodontal disease.
BENIGN GROWTHS vs CANCER:
- Our goal is to be as low stress and as non-invasive as possible in obtaining a diagnosis. Regardless of the location or the size of any swelling or lump, you need to know if it is malignant (cancer) or benign.
- Even benign growths may need to be removed early because if they grow to a large size before you take action, the surgery may be much more difficult and in certain locations may cause serious problems (benign growths around the eye, for example). It is important to remove benign growths before they require extensive surgery or otherwise become bothersome to your pet.
- Some growths are very easily diagnosed by fine needle aspiration. No sedation is usually needed because it is no more traumatic than a simple injection. We may evaluate the cells here or choose to submit them to a pathologist for a report within a few days, depending on the nature of the growth.
- Some growths require surgery to obtain a satisfactory sample (biopsy) for a pathologist. We utilize high tech anesthesia and our post-operative pain control is thorough.
- “Hidden” growths deep in the abdomen or the chest or within organs may be hard to find early, but they can often be identified with blood tests, palpation, ultrasound, or x-ray. In some cases, a biopsy can be obtained with light sedation to prevent any discomfort. Our ultrasound capabilities and training are extensive, and we offer abdominal biopsies by laparoscope and noninvasive gastrointestinal biopsies with endoscopy.
- Once a diagnosis is made, we can tell you if the growth is benign or malignant, the scientific name of the tumor, what treatments are available and side effects (if any), the schedule of treatments, the success rates and costs of treatments. You can then decide what is best for your pet and your family. Our goal is for families to be able to make fully informed decisions concerning health care as well as end of life issues. We respect the individual decisions that families make.
There are a wide variety of cancers that are seen in dogs and cats. While some cancers are aggressive and cannot be treated, there are treatments available for a large number of the cancers we see commonly. Early detection and treatment can improve the success rate of treatment for many cancers. Available treatments include:
- Surgical removal – There are many common cancerous skin tumors which can be cured or controlled with complete surgical removal. When a growth is removed, it is sent to a pathology lab to determine what kind of growth it is, how aggressive it is, and whether it was removed completely. If the fine needle aspiration shows the potential for a malignant skin growth, wide margins of normal tissue are removed along with the growth to make sure no cancer cells are left behind. If the growth cannot be removed completely, your veterinarian will discuss whether surgery would still be beneficial for comfort or as a companion to other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.
- Chemotherapy – Some cancers, most notably lymphosarcoma, can be treated with chemotherapy. In veterinary medicine, the goal of chemotherapy is to provide remission while maintaining good quality of life. Unlike human medicine, our chemotherapy dosages are tailored so that chemo doesn’t make pets sick, immune suppressed, or unable to enjoy their day-to-day life. The doctors and technician staff at Animal Hospital of North Asheville are trained to administer chemotherapy safely and without stress to your pet.
- Oncology referral – Some cancers are complex or require treatments such as radiation that we are not able to do within our hospital. We work closely with several referral hospitals who have board-certified oncology (cancer) specialists on staff, and are happy to provide a referral for consultation, special imaging procedures like CT and MRI scans, and advanced therapies such as radiation. Our doctors frequently consult with veterinary oncologists to determine the best treatment options, costs, and prognosis.
- Palliative and hospice care – For patients with incurable cancers, our goal is always to keep pets as comfortable as possible and allow them to be at home with their families. We work together with pet parents to find a pain control strategy that will give the best quality of life with the fewest side effects. When the time comes, we will help you make kind and compassionate decisions.