Cancer is a common occurrence in geriatric dogs and cats. Although it is true that the incidence of cancer is on the rise in our pets, some of this may be due to the fact that our pets are living longer.

What are the symptoms?
Just as in people, many types of cancer exist, and the symptoms vary depending on the body system affected.Cancer of vital organs, such as liver, kidney, brain, or lung often cause disease by affecting the function of that organ.Solid tumors, such as sarcomas or carcinomas, often cause pain and dysfunction by displacing or invading neighboring tissue, such as skin, muscle or bone.Blood based tumors, such as lymphoma, can affect blood counts or the body’s ability to clot the blood.

Many cancers cause a syndrome of general lethargy, pain and weight loss.

How is it diagnosed?
Some types of cancer are diagnosed with simple physical exam, bloodwork or xray .  Others take additional imaging, such as ultrasound, CT scan or MRI.  Commonly an exact cancer diagnosis (what type, etc) cannot be made without a biopsy. In many cases, we do not go this far, choosing to make treatment plans based on the “most likely” diagnosis as well as symptoms.

Is it curable?
A few types of cancer in pets, especially those that can be completely removed (skin or other non-vital organ) may be curable. Like in people, most types of cancers are not curable.

What treatments are available?
Many of the same treatments used in people with cancer are available for pets. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy (medications) are the basic options.
Veterinary oncologists (cancer specialists) are available as close as Richmond and are often recommended if you desire aggressive treatment for your pet’s cancer.

Many people choose less aggressive, palliative options for pets with cancer. Some of these palliative options still include surgery, medications or even limited radiation, with the goal being decreasing symptoms and pain, and improving quality of life.

The most conservative cancer treatment, or those often chosen when other treatments fail are purely palliative and focus on pain management and quality of life.

Many pets with cancer are excellent candidates for hospice care as their disease progresses.