Rex is a middle aged happy go lucky dog. During his usual petting session his owners noticed a small lump on his throat area. They did not think that much of it but thought to mention it to us at the next annual check-up. And thank goodness they did!
A sample of the lump revealed that Rex had Cancer – Lymphoma to be precise.
Giving an owner the news that their beloved cat or dog has cancer is difficult news to convey, and difficult news to hear. But what are the implications and what are the options.
What exactly is cancer?
Cancer is when cells grow abnormally. This can be abnormal cells that grow, or normal cells growing in places where they shouldn’t be. Cancers are generally easily seen on the skin as growths or felt as masses under the skin. Internal cancers can be more difficult to detect. But the reality is that any growth or mass may be cancer, and all three terms are often used interchangeably. But very importantly, not all growths, masses, or cancers are the same.
Not all cancer is the same
There are many types of cells in the body and therefore many types of cancer. And each type of cancer has its own nature, characteristics and behaviour. So, by identifying the cancer, one can generally start trying to determine what the best treatments would be. We can also try and predict the behaviour and possible other effects that the cancer might have on the body.
What’s the difference between benign and malignant?
Benign and malignant are the two most basic terms to describe cancers, more specifically the behaviour of the cancer. Benign masses or cancers are generally the ones not to worry about. They don’t tend to spread and don’t tend to recur after surgical removal.
Malignant tumours are the ones to worry about. These are the ones that spread, come back even after removal, and can cause major other symptoms as well.
What are the options for treating cancer?
For single growths or masses, the most effective treatment still remains surgical removal. A general anaesthetic is administered, and the mass is removed. We often have to remove quite a large amount of seemingly healthy tissue with the mass. This is to ensure that we stand the highest chance of removing the whole mass, and the main reason why we always recommend early surgical removal.
If surgical removal is not possible, or if surgical removal was not completely successful, then chemotherapy or radiation can sometimes be considered.
A lot of clients are quite resistant when chemotherapy is discussed. This is often because many of us have had experience of chemo or know of someone who has had it. And most people will agree that chemotherapy comes with an expectation for some terrible side effects. But surprisingly, dogs and cats seem to be extremely resistant to the side effects of chemo and tolerate it very well. The medications are often very similar to those used in humans, but with specific regimens and doses used for animals. But due to the potential toxicities and side effects there are still many safety precautions and additional medications that are used to make the treatments safer and ever better tolerated.
Chemotherapy does not, however, work for all types of cancers. And each type of cancer also has their own set of medications that can be considered.
In conclusion, any lump or bump should be checked out by your vet as soon as possible. It is important to know what type of cancer it is to predict what may happen and treat it appropriately.