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Cancer is NOT a death sentence

May 30, 2012

Recent advances in human and veterinary medicine are increasing survival rates for both people and animals with cancer. Both human and veterinary oncologists treat cancer traditionally using methods including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. Over the past 20 years in oncology practice, I have seen some wondrous advances in treatment options. These newer modalities include cancer vaccines and targeted chemotherapy, which will be explored in future columns.

Today, veterinary surgeons are using innovative techniques such as limb sparing surgeries that can help pets with bone cancer avoid amputation. When surgery is combined with chemotherapy, veterinary oncologists achieve significant improvement in extending the lives of our pets. In addition, the pet’s quality of life is maintained with new chemotherapy dosing regimens and advanced methods to mitigate the side effects of chemotherapy. Veterinary oncologists anticipate and prevent side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia (loss of appetite) and lethargy (loss of energy level), rather than address them as they occur. New Information from European cancer centers that certain antibiotics can be used to help alleviate many of the side effects of chemotherapy is being used in veterinary hospitals as well.

The melanoma vaccine, produced by Merial, is another example of how much progress researchers and clinicians are making in cancer treatment. This vaccine helps pets with the most aggressive form of melanoma—those that arise in the mouth or on a digit—to live much longer than previous treatments. I experienced this first hand in 2003 when my own dog, Smokey, a miniature schnauzer, developed a digital melanoma at age 12. Not only did Smokey have a tumor on his toe, but the cancer had spread to his lungs as well. I knew that the prognosis was grave—3 months. Smokey was given the melanoma vaccine, which was in experimental phase at that time. With this therapy, he enjoyed wonderful quality of life and lived 2 ½ more years. You can read more about Smokey’s experience at http://www.acfoundation.org/dedications/smokey.php.

I just completed filming an informational video for the Riedel and Cody Fund that provides more evidence that pet cancer is not a death sentence; you can find it online at http://www.ustream.tv/riedelcody.

Pets with cancer are enjoying longer and better lives than ever before; there is a plethora of treatment options available to insure that every dog and cat with cancer gets a chance at therapy.