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  • Writer's pictureColleen O'Brien, DVM, CVA

Cancer is a big scary word, but it doesn't have to be.

Pet Cancer continues to increase over the years, but the good news is that veterinary medicine has progressed dramatically in its ability to treat cancer, just like in the human world. In fact, there are certain cancers, like osteosarcoma, where the human world is looking at veterinary research to learn more!

November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, so I wanted to help educate pet owners about how best to protect their furry friends.

Here are some basics to help you understand what a cancer diagnosis is and what it means.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a big term, and no two cancers are created equal. Cancers are an abnormal growth of cells, any type of cell. The cells in your skin are different from the cells of your spleen are different from the cells of your lymph nodes. This is why they all get specific names.

How does your veterinarian diagnose cancer?

This part can be tricky. Sometimes your vet is able to feel a mass or an enlarged lymph node, and then will take a sample of it (either with a needle or a small biopsy), and send it to the lab to test. Sometimes, we will go straight to surgery to remove a mass depending on its size and/or location and send the entire mass out for testing. Other times, we don't see a mass or something enlarged until we take a radiograph (x-ray). Ultrasounds and CT scans may be necessary follow up to better visualize the abnormalities seen on radiographs.

Finally, there is blood work. Basic blood work can give hints of cancer, but you can have perfect bloodwork and still have cancer. Because there are so many different and varied types of cancers that all act differently, there is no general "cancer test" that can be done.

How do you treat cancer?

Cancer is treated based on the type of cancer. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, or any combination of those. Thankfully, pets typically tolerate all this very well. They don't lose their fur during chemo the way humans do. If the pet for some reason is not tolerating treatment, we will change course even if that means a lower success of beating the cancer. The focus is both Quality and Quantity of life. For advanced cancer treatment, your vet may refer you to a veterinary oncologist. This is a veterinarian who after graduating, decided to focus their career solely on cancer and has years of additional schooling, research, and experience in this specific specialty.

How do acupuncture and Chinese herbs factor in?

Acupuncture is great for helping any pain that may be associated with the cancer. It can also be used to help stimulate appetite and general health. Chinese herbs are also commonly used with certain cancers, however these should be prescribed by a veterinarian and checked with any specialist who may be assisting in your pets care.

How do I prevent cancer in my pet?

Just like in humans, it's impossible to completely prevent. The biggest thing you can do is bring your pet in at least yearly to have their exam and senior bloodwork done so that things may be detected early. If buying a purebred puppy/kitten, it is important that the breeder have kept track of the entire lineage to learn if any of them developed cancer as they aged.

How You Can Observe Pet Cancer Awareness Month

Use #PetCancerAwarenessMonth, or #PetCancerAwareness to post on social media. If you have a cat or dog at home, consider scheduling them a medical appointment for a checkup.

Cancer is a scary word, but it doesn't have to be. Talk to your vet and learn your options.


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