There are a variety of tumors that affect animals, and just as in humans, they can be benign or malignant.
The diagnosis, treatment and care of a companion animal with cancer will involve very personal decisions for the pet’s primary caretaker and family members. In very few instances are the answers black and white. Instead, case management is tailored individually to best suit the needs of the patient and the patient’s family.
The best way to achieve this individualized treatment is to proceed and make choices from an educated perspective. Therefore it is Dr. Dew’s desire to ensure that all questions are answered prior to any diagnostic or therapeutic procedures, at anytime please ask questions and have your options clarified.
Animals are equipped to mask the signs of most diseases until they cause obvious signs or grossly change the pet’s physical appearance or function. It is always less traumatic and more effective to treat cancer at the time it is first detected, consequently Dr. Dew never advocates the “wait and see” approach when dealing with cancer.
Three terms often heard are “definitive diagnosis” and “staging”, and “DFI” or “Disease Free Interval”. A definitive diagnosis is most often made by a Veterinary Pathologist looking at cells or tissue. A presumptive diagnosis or differential diagnosis is one made by clinical experience based on many factors. It is however only presumptive and therefore carries the risk of being inaccurate. Staging is the classification of disease progression and helps define the likely prognosis for any one individual. Staging may include radiographs, ultrasound or additional laboratory tests. The disease free interval is the prognosis for how long post surgery your pet is expected to remain free from recurrence of symptoms and/or disease.
If a pet has a growth that is suspected to be a tumor, the least invasive options for obtaining a definitive diagnosis will be to perform either a fine needle aspirate or a biopsy. In the first instance, cells are obtained with a hypodermic needle; in the second, tissue is collected. In both cases, the samples are submitted to a board certified Veterinary Pathologist to obtain a diagnosis.
A third option, tumor excision, is dependent on the size and location of the mass coupled with the presumptive diagnosis. In these cases the tumor can be removed in its entirety and the removed tissue can be sent to a laboratory for a definitive diagnosis.
Because the variety and pathology of tumors can vary greatly, there is no single preferred course of action. Options can be discussed in a consultation, during which the surgeon and client can decide together what the best course of action will be.
In the event that a tumor cannot be completely removed or if the cancer is one that can metastasize elsewhere in the body, chemotherapy or radiation may be a treatment option following surgery. Without a doubt the best course of action will be determined by reviewing all diagnostics and treatment options, discussing these with the surgeon and proceeding in an informed manner.
- “Jake’s” tumor – successfully managed for 3 years.