Depending upon the grade, stage and type of cancer, your team will recommend one or a combination of treatment options. Multiple treatment options that combine surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are the rule rather than the exception. This is because the treatment of cancer in animals has become as sophisticated and successful as the treatment of cancer in humans.
Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer at the tumor site, as well as the cancer that may have spread through the body. Most chemotherapeutic drugs act directly on cancer cells, preventing them from maturing or reproducing. Unlike humans, the side effects of chemotherapy in pets are relatively mild. Doses of drugs and treatment schedules are calculated to minimize discomfort to the pet, while providing the most effective defense against the cancer. As a result, most people are surprised at how well their pets feel while undergoing chemotherapy. The goal is to kill and slow the growth of cancer cells, while producing minimal negative effects on normal cells. If your pet requires a plan of chemotherapy, your veterinarian will most likely bring in a specialist (an oncologist) to develop the plan of attack and administer the treatments. In addition to the latest and best medical treatments, an oncologist will provide the specialized equipment and supervision that your pet needs. Chemotherapy protocols are frequently changed or customized to achieve the best outcome for your pet.
In veterinary medicine, radiation therapy was first attempted at the beginning of the twentieth century. During the past 50 years, major advances have been made. The use of histopathology, MRI, and CT scans has resulted in more accurate diagnosis of the type and location of tumors. Newer radiation equipment and new technology such as intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) has allowed the radiation to be tailored to the individual patient's tumor with more and more accuracy, so that normal tissues around the tumor can be spared. This has increased the effectiveness and decreased the side effects and risks of radiation therapy.
Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy or IMRT may be used to treat your pet's tumor. This is a relatively new type of treatment that uses multiple, complex beams of radiation to shape the radiation dose to your pets tumor. By pinpointing the radiation to the tumor it minimizes the amount of radiation that is given to your pet's normal tissues. This will usually minimize the potential side effects for your pet. Many times this is done as part of a definitive radiation treatment using the same number of treatments, but it also can be done as part of a treatment known as stereotactic radiation or stereotactic radiation. This involves a small number of treatments contoured to your pet's tumor. This is a very effective way to deliver high doses of radiation to certain tumors.
Immunotherapy is the use of the body's immune system to treat a disease. We use immunotherapy to treat certain cancers, such as: melanoma, hemangiosarcoma, renal cell carcinoma, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma among others.
There are various types of immunotherapy ranging from cancer vaccines to injecting cytokines (chemicals that stimulate the body's own immune system). One of the advantages of immunotherapy is that it is generally less toxic than traditional chemotherapy.
Surgery is the oldest form of cancer therapy and has been responsible for the cure of more patients than any other treatment. This great success is mainly due to the development of new surgical techniques combined with chemotherapy and radiation for a total plan of treatment for your pet's cancer.