The “C” word is something no one wants to hear when they go to the doctor. Pet owners are no different. Cancer in pets, as in humans, comes in many different forms with varying degrees of severity. Sometimes it is easy to diagnose and treat, and other times it can be a drawn out process. Early detection serves as a pet’s best chance for longer survival times as many forms of cancer are treatable but not curable.
Find a new lump or bump on your pet? Having that mass examined and possibly tested by your vet can put your mind at ease. Lumps that appear suddenly and grow quickly are generally of greater concern. A fine needle aspirate (FNA), is a minimally invasive, quick test that can sometimes be used to make a diagnosis of a new lump and help owners decide if it’s worth surgically removing. Masses under the skin can be anything from benign fatty tissue (lipomas) to high grade malignant tumors, such as mast cell tumors.
Older pets are generally at higher risk of cancer and serves as a reason to make sure they continue with yearly physical exams. Signs can be vague ranging from decreased appetite to severe weight loss and vomiting. A good physical exam can reveal enlarged lymph nodes or possible tumors within the abdomen. Bloodwork is generally not definitive for diagnosing cancer, but can potentially point your vet in the right direction if diagnosis is difficult. X-rays are also beneficial for tumors within the abdomen or chest.
If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, we are lucky enough to have multiple options for treatment. Depending on the type and location of tumor, your veterinarian may recommend removal and a consultation with a veterinary oncologist. Chemotherapy has become more common place in recent years. It is not as harsh on pets as it is humans because we treat for remission and good quality of life, not a cure. Radiation has also become an option for certain cancers.
The diagnosis of cancer is no longer an immediate death sentence. With vigilance and proper care, more animals are getting the treatment they need and living longer, healthier lives.