Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Big "C"

The DogsLifeKC packs wants to thank Oak Park Veterinary Clinic's Jennifer S. Strickland, DVM, RN for sharing her time and thoughts with us.

I remember watching a movie from the 1980’s “St. Elmo’s Fire” and in that movie filled with brat-packers there was a character who was the mother of one of the recent college grads who every time she had something horrible or horrific to say she would whisper the key word.  One of those words was the “c” word.  Cancer.  For some reason that image has stuck with me all these many years.  Well while the “c” word is horrible and horrific for both humans and pets it is by no means the end.

Let’s first clean up some terminology often used interchangeably with cancer.  The term neoplasia is any uncontrolled abnormal growth of tissues or cells in the body.  The proper term for this growth is called a neoplasm which is often called a tumor.  These neoplasms can be non-malignant (benign), or malignant (cancerous).  These non-malignant neoplasms do not grow aggressively.  They do not attack surrounding body tissue, and do not spread throughout the body via the blood or lymphatic system.  The term tumor is usually used to describe the area of swelling or mass associated with the neoplasm. 

Neoplasia is a very common among our pets especially as they age.  Malignant neoplasia is responsible for nearly half of all deaths of pets over the age of ten.  Dogs get cancer at the same rate as the human population while cats develop cancer at a slightly lower rate than humans.  Here are some various types of Neoplasia.

A lymphoma is one of the most common types of neoplasia in our pets.  It is typically an enlargement of one or more lymph nodes in the body.

A neoplasia in the abdominal cavity is also very common.  Unfortunately, this is a neoplasia that is very difficult to make an early diagnosis.  An early warning sign is sudden weight loss.

A neoplasia of the bone is usually seen in large breed dogs older than seven years of age.  This neoplasia is rarely seen in cats.  This neoplasia usually attacks the bone near a joint.  Early warning signs are lameness, swelling at or near the joint and continual pain at or near the site.

A neoplasia of the skin is very common in older dogs but rarely seen in cats.  When they are seen in cats they are almost always malignant.  They are rarely malignant in dogs.

Mammary Gland
A neoplasia in the mammary gland is a serious thing.  More than half of all neoplasia in dogs are malignant and more than 85% of neoplasms in cats are malignant.  You can greatly reduce the risk of this form of cancer by spaying your pet before they reach one year of age.

Mouth & Nose
Neoplasia of the mouth is rare in cats but is not uncommon in dogs.  Warning signs are a tumor on the gums, bleeding coming from the gums, a foul order in the mouth, and difficulty eating and chewing.  Many of these tumors are malignant so consult your veterinarian immediately in order to begin an aggressive treatment plan.  Neoplasia may also develop in the sinus cavities causing severe swelling to the face and bleeding from the nose.  This too should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian immediately for quick diagnosis and treatment.

Warning Signs
  • Weight Loss
  •  Loss of Appetite
  • Difficulty eating, chewing, or swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Difficulty defecating
  • Continual lameness or stiffness
  • Wounds that do not heal
  • Abnormal swellings that continue to grow or remain
  • Bloody discharge from any body cavity
  • Unusual pungent odor
  • Loss of energy

Neoplasia is usually detected during a routine medical examination normally associated with an annual wellness exam that includes full blood chemistry.  These may be discovered with a head-to-toe hands-on visual exam of your pet.  Your veterinarian may ask to do a needle stick to remove a sample of neoplasia cells for viewing under the microscope during your visit.  This can act as a rule-out of a possible malignant neoplasm.  Often these tumors are no more than fatty lipomas that are noticeable to the touch but harmless to your pet.

Once a neoplasia is suspected or detected your veterinarian will want to run several tests to confirm or dismiss the initial findings.  These may include blood work, radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound exams, and the afore mentioned biopsies.  These tests are needed to determine the malignant or non-malignant nature of the neoplasm.  Early detection and diagnosis is critical to the long-term effective treatment of all neoplastic diseases.  The sooner they are discovered and treated the better the prognosis.  Many of the symptoms associated with neoplastic diseases are symptoms shared by other disease processes and need immediate veterinary medical attention no matter what the ultimate diagnosis is. 

Once your veterinarian has completed testing and made a final diagnosis they will discuss treatment plan options for your pet.  They may offer multiple treatment plans from very aggressive to minimally aggressive depending on a variety of factors such as the pet’s age, overall wellness, client’s financial situation, and ultimate expected outcome.

Possible treatments may range from surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, cryosurgery (freezing neoplasm), or immunotherapy.  This may be incorporated with a nutritional treatment plan to improve your pet’s response to the overall treatment plan.  Often pain management is part of any good overall treatment plan.  You should consult with your veterinarian about all aspects of the plan. 

There are 100% cure rates with some types of neoplasia if they are detected early and treatment is started promptly.  Time is the enemy when it comes to cure rates.  The longer it takes to detect and treat a pet the lower percentage of full recovery.  However, some types of neoplasms can only be managed to limit the spread of the disease and make your pet comfortable.  In these cases your family may consider euthanasia for your pet.  Before making any final decision regarding euthanasia you should consult with your veterinarian in order to make the best informed choice possible.

We learn more and more every year through research and newly developed diagnostic methods about the “C” word.  Every advancement in science will lead us closer to a final cure of this horrible disease process.  Until then, early detection and aggressive treatment plans are our best defense.  This is just another reason why continual consultation and annual examination with your veterinarian is vital to the overall wellness of your pet. 

Pet Dr. J
Jennifer S. Strickland, DVM, RN

You can also visit her clinic on Facebook! 

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