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    National Pet Cancer Awareness Month

    By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM

    Sick Cat

    November is a busy month. Not only is it National Diabetes Month, but it is also National Pet Cancer Awareness Month.

    Cancer and diabetes are two important diseases the veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center treat every day.

    According to VPI, a pet insurance company, their top ten insurance claims for pet cancer treatment include tumors we veterinary oncologists commonly treat.

    1. Lymphoma or lymphosarcoma
    2. Malignant skin cancer
    3. Splenic cancer
    4. Bone or joint cancer
    5. Liver caner
    6. Chest cancer
    7. Bladder cancer
    8. Brain of spinal cord cancer
    9. Mouth cancer
    10. Cancer of the cells lining the inside of the chest and abdomen

    Surgery and cancer

    Surgery is often the first procedure for a cancer patient and is commonly performed to get a biopsy of a lump which leads to the diagnosis of cancer. For one or two of the tumors on the top ten list, surgical excision might be the only treatment needed to control the tumor. If surgical excision isn’t enough to control the tumor, we often recommend chemotherapy.

    Chemotherapy concerns

    The tumors listed in the top ten insurance claims also include tumors veterinary oncologists manage with chemotherapy treatments. Chemotherapy helps us control the spread of some tumors and shrink others, improving both the length and quality of a pet’s life.

    Many pet owners express concern over the potential side effects of chemotherapy treatment on their pet. Scientific research has proven their concerns unfounded. Carboplatin, a chemotherapy drug used to treat bone tumors called osteosarcoma and other tumors in dogs and cats, receives high marks for improving quality of life.

    A combination of chemotherapy drugs for the treatment of feline lymphoma also improved the quality of life of cats suffering from this common tumor.

    Setting expectations

    Veterinary oncologists successfully give chemotherapy to dogs and cats on a daily basis. Because we have been treating pets with cancer for decades, we know what doses are safe and what additional therapies to administer to limit adverse reactions. In my experience, dogs tolerate chemotherapy better than people and cats tolerate it even better than dogs. I think psychology plays a role in chemotherapy reactions. Humans know what chemotherapy can do. My patients, smart as they are, have no clue about chemotherapy. The typical pet receiving chemotherapy has one or two off days following treatment and then their appetite and energy rebound. We obsess over every patient’s white blood cell count and send them home without treatment if the count is too low for safe administration. Every one of our patients has at least two people helping with chemotherapy administration: someone who holds the pet on a soft, comfortable mat, and a nurse specially trained in administration of chemotherapy drugs.

    What can a pet owner do about cancer?

    Take an active role in screening your pet for cancer using the Veterinary Cancer Society’s Ten Common Signs of Cancer in Pets.

    Investigate pet insurance to see if it is right for your family. If you already have a policy, find out if cancer treatment is covered.

    Photo: iStockphoto
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