The Big C

Cancer forms in the body when normal cells go "haywire".  Normally the body has specific processes and cells in place to kill off abnormal cells - it is when this fails that cancer results. 

Any organ of the body can be affected - the skin, mouth, tongue, ears, eyes, internal organs, bone, blood... the list goes on.  Some forms of cancer may occur as lumps which can either be benign (non-spreading, but locally growing), or metastatic (spread to other places like the lungs or lymph nodes).  Cancers of internal organs may affect the animal in ways which show clinically as changes in their eating and drinking habits, vomiting or diarrhoea, weight loss, difficulty breathing or a change in behaviour. 

Sometimes a diagnosis of cancer can be identified during an initial physical examination in a consult but sometimes further diagnostic tests are required such as blood tests, x-rays, aspirates or biopsies of lumps or ultrasound.  Some types of cancer require thorough work-ups to "stage" the cancer (determining severity and/or prognosis) and decide how treatment should proceed. 

Treatments can involve surgical removal of a diseased organ or lump, or may require anti-cancer drug therapy.  Some forms of drug treatment appear to have little side-effects (such as the medication given to hyperthyroid cats who have a cancerous thyroid nodule), however some forms of cancer therapy involve closer monitoring such as that in patients with lymphoma, a form of white blood cell cancer.  In these patients chemotherapy is required and although our small animal pets don't lose their hair coat with these drugs they may feel nauseas and require regular check-ups and blood cell counts to ensure that their white blood cells (immune cells) aren't lowering too much.

Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) is most frequently diagnosed in large breed dogs and it can develop in any bone, but more commonly occurs in the limbs.  Initial signs can include intermittent, progressing to constant lameness, with pain and swelling as the tumour grows.  These bones become weak and can break with minor injury.  It has a high rate of spreading to the lungs, lymph nodes and adjacent soft tissues or bone.  Treatment options can range from palliative care (pain relief management) to surgical amputation of the affected limb or a combination of surgical amputation and chemotherapy.  The latter options can extend survival time for up to 1-3 years if combined with chemotherapy. 

Ensuring regular health-check appointments is an important part of helping your four-legged friend to remain happy and healthy for as long as possible.  If you notice anything ‘out of the ordinary' with your pet please don't hesitate to seek advice - as always, we are here to help.