Dogs and cats are now living longer and more full lives due to advancements in health care available. Because of their longer life spans, we are encountering more and more cases of neoplastic disease, i.e., cancer.
Tumors occur when the normal cells begin acting in abnormal ways. They begin multiplying uncontrollably, and will sometimes produce normal body hormones or enzymes in abnormal amounts. In some cases, viruses may stimulate a neoplastic process, but most cancers are due to a dysfunction for no apparent reason.
There are many different types of tumors that can affect our pets, and because of this, the first step in deciding what to do about a particular tumor is to find out what type it is. There are two ways of doing this: #1: a cytology, or #2, a biopsy. A cytological sample can be obtained without sedation, and the results can be read in an hour or so. Biopsies require anesthesia, and usually can be done as a same-day surgery. Occasionally, the whole mass obtained from a biopsy can be removed and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
As far as treatments are concerned, animals have most of the same treatment options as people. Surgical removal is probably the most common method of treatment for tumors in pets. Many tumors are curative with surgical removal, but some are not. For those that can not be removed, or are likely to return if removed, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are available in most cases. Thankfully, chemotherapy in pets does not produce many of the side effects that are seen in human medicine. Don’t worry- your dog will not lose all of it’s hair! Most chemotherapy protocols can be performed as an outpatient treatment at the local veterinarian level. Radiation therapy, however, is only available at the university level, but should be considered because of the high potential for curative treatment in some cases.