Volume No. 16 Issue No. 10 October 2019  

Dr. Jim Humphries
  Chemotherapy for pets with cancer
  Dr. Jim Humphries

     Cancer in our pets is a far too common diagnosis, especially in older animals. For the past five years, I’ve devoted my practice to helping pets who are at the end of their lives. This may mean some sort of palliative care or hospice care at home. Often, this ends in a private and peaceful at-home euthanasia.
   In animal medicine, we see all the same cancers seen in human medicine. The treatments are nearly the same and include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The major difference is that we have financial restrictions on us when it comes to treating our pets. There is no Medicare or Medicaid for pets; and, as you can imagine, these bills can reach into the tens of thousands. However, today with pet health insurance becoming so popular, it is possible for us to treat our pets with some of the more sophisticated methods and modalities regardless of the cost. (If you have not yet done this, I encourage you to check out pet health insurance online.)
   At Colorado State University, for example, they even have a “Cyberknife,” or stereotactic radiation device; which is precise radiation treatment of certain cancers. Radiation is usually given with the goal of achieving long-term tumor control. This is referred to as radiation therapy with curative intent.
   There are times when radiation is only administered to relieve the patient of pain and difficult symptoms and to improve quality of life. This is referred to as palliative radiation therapy. We use this when the patient has advanced cancer, metastasis or some other critical condition that would limit life expectancy.
   All types of radiation have significant limitations for our pets. This is primarily due to the fact that the patient must be under a general anesthetic for the treatment, and treatments are often several weeks long several days a week. You would have to consider multiple trips to the cancer center and the cost and stress of undergoing general anesthesia multiple times.
   However, chemotherapy is often an excellent choice. Chemotherapy is a term given to a group of drugs that have the ability to slow or kill cancer cells. Many of the drugs used to treat cancer in pets are derived from natural substances such as plants, trees or even bacteria; and are often the same drugs used in people. Chemotherapy is frequently used to treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, and to treat cancer that cannot be treated with surgery or radiation therapy alone.
   Side effects for dogs are milder and generally last for a shorter period of time as opposed to humans who receive chemotherapy because dogs are given less-aggressive treatments. In fact, 75 to 80 percent of dogs have no side effects.
   Chemotherapy drugs sometimes do not cure cancer, but rather control the cancer by killing cells and slowing the progression of the disease. Many chemotherapy protocols involve a series of treatments, followed by a period of careful observation. However, in some patients with advanced disease, chemotherapy may be continued as long as it is controlling the cancer.
   Your veterinarian can refer you to a specialist in oncology if you want to look at all possible ways to help your sweet pet beat this awful disease. At CSU, the Flint Cancer Center is an unbelievable resource. Closer to home (and easier to use) is the Southern Veterinary Medical Internal Medicine hospital in Colorado Springs. They have internists who focus on cancer diagnosis and treatment.
   The success rate in treating cancer in our pets today is much better than it was just 10 years ago. If your veterinarian tells you your pet might have cancer, try not to panic; much can be done. Next, set a time for your family to talk through all the options with your veterinarian. They will give you options and provide the best initial treatment plan, then guide you where to go for advanced care. The specialist will discuss the many ways you can attack this disease and do what makes sense for your family and your dear friend.
   And the last two most important points: 1. Act early if you see a lump or bump. 2. Get your pets insured to make the financial side of this decision much easier.

   Dr. Jim Humphries is a veterinarian, and provides hospice and end-of-life care for pets in the Colorado Springs area. He also serves as a visiting professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He speaks nationwide and has appeared on most television and radio networks as an expert guest. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes. www.HomeWithDignity.com
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