By David Duchemin, BA
One of the biggest challenges we face in treating cancer is that the general public assumes treatment is the same for people and pets. Whether witnessing a friend or family member undergoing cancer treatment or watching it as part of a television show, even the most optimistic person is aware of the host of side effects experienced by human cancer patients. Pet owners, already emotionally spinning from the diagnosis of cancer in their pets, approach the veterinary oncology specialist with preconceived, inaccurate assumptions about cancer treatment in pets.
When my own dog, Cody, was diagnosed with malignant histiocytosis, I was immediately emotionally hijacked by my personal experiences of how my family members handled their cancer therapies. Even as owner and administrator of The VCC, I still had to have the doctors remind me both intellectually and emotionally of how well pets handle cancer treatment.
Since cats and dogs have a limited lifespan compared to people, the primary goal is not to cure cancer but to significantly slow it down. This not only gives them more time but also gives them a higher quality of life, even during treatment.
Veterinary oncologists achieve this by administering lower treatment doses than they do in humans (sometimes over longer periods of time), as well as by treating patient symptoms prophylactically. Many pets never show symptoms of either the disease or the treatment of the disease. It’s truly amazing how well most pets do!
Many pet owners and their family veterinarians may not be aware of all the amazing and novel therapies that have become available over the last few years. With the mapping of the genome, personalized medication, Radiation Therapy using IMRT, and the latest discovery regarding junk DNA, researchers are on the forefront of really making a difference when it comes to not only the treatment of pets with cancer but for us humans as well.
People make emotional decisions every single day; it is part of what makes us human. But we should be careful to never base a decision on fear or a lack of understanding. Cancer isn’t a death sentence. Always get the facts from a board-certified professional before making decisions about your pet’s health. The truth might surprise you and give you new reasons to have hope when faced with a cancer diagnosis.