Wellness Special Feature
Cancer Prevention and Treatment
by Dr. Theresas Arteaga, DVM, DACVIM (Oncologist)
Cancer is the number one disease-related cause of death in older dogs and cats. It accounts for nearly 50 percent of reported pet deaths each year. Although it is the leading cause of death in older pets, it is not necessarily a death sentence and is often treatable. As with humans, there have been amazing advances in cancer treatment, and a high quality of life can be provided for your pet.
The cause of cancer in pets is largely unknown. There are certain breeds that tend to get certain types of cancers more often than others. There are also environmental factors that may be associated with increased incidence of cancer. Cancer occurs when there is a DNA mutation causing some genes to be damaged, changed, or defected. If these cells with damaged genes are not destroyed by the body’s checkpoints or immune system, they will grow uncontrollably.
The best prognosis for most cancer is early detection. The best advice for early detection is to have a thorough physical exam annually. You may also have yearly bloodwork, ultrasounds or chest x-rays as your pet gets older. If you have a breed that is predisposed to a certain cancer, you might take extra precautions. For example, Westies and Scotties are predisposed to a type of bladder cancer called transitional cell carcinoma. Annual urinalysis and abdominal ultrasounds may catch this disease before it is in its advanced stage. Also, make sure to massage/pet your dog thoroughly at least once a week. If any mass/bump is felt they should be taken to a veterinarian to have an aspirate or biopsy performed. Frequently, lumps/bumps in animals are benign. However, if it is cancerous, the smaller the lump, the smaller the surgery and hopefully a cure, rather than further treatment with radiation, chemotherapy, or targeted therapies.
If your pet does have a diagnosis of cancer, again it is important to remember that there is often treatment. It is important to have a team approach to best treat your pet. Your veterinarian will contact an oncologist who will advise you of the different options that best suit your pet. Currently, there are several different options for your pet. There are the traditional modalities of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but also immunotherapy and targeted therapies.
In my practice, we are currently treating several pets with all of these modalities. Cane, a boisterous, goofy four-year-old Rottweiler was recently diagnosed with multicentric lymphoma. He is currently receiving chemotherapy, is in a complete remission, and has had minimal side effects. He runs, jumps, and frequently knocks me over.
Andelay, a very feminine 15-year-old Chihuahua, has an aggressive form of melanoma. Her primary tumor was surgically excised, and she was treated with the DNA melanoma vaccine. The idea behind the vaccine is to trick the dog’s immune system into targeting a protein only seen on melanin cells, therefore eliminating a cancer that to date has been resistant to chemotherapy. The vaccine currently extends dogs’ lives across all stages by six times; but again, early recognition is key.
Even with all of these modalities available, we often do not cure cancer. Our pets mostly do not go soundly in their sleep, and the decision often needs to be made to let them go. I always counsel owners that besides treating their pet’s cancer, it is our duty to also make their pet as comfortable as possible at the end.
Theresa Arteaga, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology) acquired her veterinary degree at Cornell University Veterinary College. Her residency in oncology was at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City where she was on the team that brought the DNA Melanoma Vaccine through USDA trial as well as other clinical trials involving targeted therapies and immunotherapy. Dr. Arteaga sees patients in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She can be reached through www.thepetspecialists.com.