1. Hot off the Presses – New Study Shines Light On Radiation for Nasal Sarcomas

    A new study published in the March/April edition of Veterinary Radiology and Ultrasound provides some very useful information about treating nasal sarcomas in dogs.  This study was entitled Survival Times for Canine Intranasal Sarcomas Treated with Radiation Therapy: 86 Cases (1996-2011), Sones Vet Radiol Ultrasound.  Nasal sarcomas comprise approximately 1/3 of nasal tumors in dogs and although previous papers have shown longer survival times for sarcomas, the number of patients treated in those papers has been limited. One exciting aspect of this study is how the authors used data from a number of institutions to be able to study a larger number of patients.  Many studies looking at the treatment of tumors in dogs and cats, do not include a large enough number of patients to be meaningful.  In the future, studies like this one will allow us to learn more about how to treat uncommon diseases.

    Another critical piece of information from this study is that it confirms that dogs with nasal sarcomas can have an excellent outcome when treated with radiation therapy.  In this study dogs with nasal sarcomas had an average survival of almost 15 months with approximately 1/3 of the dogs living for greater than two years.  This confirms that prognosis can be very good with treatment.  The study also showed that dogs who received a definitive course of radiation, with treatments performed every day had a significantly longer survival than dogs treated with radiation every other day (21 months versus 11 months).  This is the first paper to show this for nasal tumors and it confirms the importance of treating patients daily with radiation.

    A final key point of this study is that palliative radiation may be a good option for many pets.  Dogs treated with palliative radiation had a significantly shorter median survival than dogs treated with daily radiation (305 versus 641 days).  However palliative radiation still was helpful for most dogs.  Palliative radiation involves fewer treatments with less side effects and with an average survival time of 10 months this may be an excellent treatment option, especially for dogs who are not good candidates for definitive treatment.

    Studies like this one continue to give us useful information to help us provide more quality time for our pets with cancer.


    – Dr. John Farrelly (April 2013)

  2. New technology for the treatment of nasal tumors in dogs and cats

    Nasal tumors are one of the most challenging tumors to treat in dogs and cats.  These tumors usually fill up one or both sides of the entire nasal cavity and sinuses.  In the skull of a dog or cat, this means that the tumor often wraps around the eyes and the brain and it usually lies just above the palate.  Therefore, when treating these patients with radiation therapy in the past, we typically needed to include a great deal of the oral mucosa, the eyes and the brain.  In most dogs, treating these areas with a definitive dose of radiation usually results in moderate to severe short-term side effects which can last for up to two weeks after the last radiation treatment.  Most dogs, and some cats, treated in this manner are in a significant degree of pain or discomfort during this time.  With recent advances in pain medications it is possible to get these patients through their treatment, but for many pet owners and their animals treating a nasal tumor has been a very difficult process and many animals may not get treated because of these side effects.

    With the advent of newer radiation technologies this has changed.  Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) is a newer radiation technique that is becoming available in veterinary medicine to treat difficult tumors like nasal tumors.   With IMRT the patient is positioned in a bite-block or similar positioning device for their radiation planning CT and every day for their radiation treatment.  This is crucial with IMRT to minimize variation in their day to day set up.  Using a three dimensional treatment planning computer radiation beams are aimed at the tumor from a number of different directions so that the radiation can approach from all sides.  The radiation planning is done using what is known as inverse planning.  Instead of telling the computer what beams to use for treatment, the radiation oncologist tells the computer what dose they want to deliver to the tumor as well as the maximum dose allowed to be delivered to the normal tissues.  The treatment planning computer then determines how to deliver the best dose to the tumor while blocking the critical normal tissues.  It does this by taking advantage of multiple leaves up in the head of the radiation machine which are used to deliver different doses of radiation to different parts of the field.

    For dogs with nasal tumors this means that the radiation can be directed to the tumor and the dose to the normal tissues is minimal.  Dogs who are being treated with IMRT usually have small areas of ulceration in their mouths and the skin on their nose, but most of the normal tissues have only mild changes.  Also, although there is limited data so far, the risk of long term side effects such as cataracts will likely be low.


    Dr. John Farrelly – The Veterinary Cancer Center

    March 2013

  3. Groomers Are The 1st Line of Defense Against Cancer

    Listen to Dr. Post on Animal Radio® for November 3, 2012

    Dr. Gerald Post is the owner of the Veterinary Cancer Center (The VCC), in Norwalk, CT, which is a specialized veterinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in animals.

    Some estimates suggest that greater than 50% of dogs over 10 years old will die of cancer.  Dogs get cancer a little bit more frequently than humans, while cats get cancer less frequently than humans.  There are about 6 million new cases of dogs and cats diagnosed with cancer every year.  The earlier you detect cancer, the better your chance of effective treatment.

    This is where your groomer comes in.  Dr. Post can’t tell us how many times cancer has been detected first by the groomer.  The groomer then advises their client, who will brings their animal to their veterinarian.

    Dr. Post feels that groomers are a great resource for health maintenance and detecting cancer at a very early stage.

    Animal Radio’s own Joey Villani, who has been grooming dogs for many years, explains why groomers can help detect cancer.  He states that they look at our dogs more closely than we do, and are looking at areas where we might not always see.  These include closely looking at the private areas and feeling under their arms and legs.  They do this because they will be working in those areas and want to make sure they are free and clear of any lumps or bumps.  What they sometimes find are lumps and bumps and even moles that don’t look right.  If they do find something odd, they will tell the guardian to take the dog to their veterinarian and have it looked at.  Joey also mentions that he can’t remember how many times a guardian has come back to him with tears in their eyes and told him, “Thank you very much.  This was the beginning of cancer.  You saved my dog!”

    While groomers find these lumps and bumps, they still need to be examined by a veterinarian.  This is a whole team approach to detecting cancer in our pets.

    Cancer can be caused by a variety of things, such as diet, environmental factors and genetic factors.

    Unfortunately different breeds of dogs are more prone to certain types of cancers.  For example, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Flat-Coated Retrievers and Boxers, have a 60% of getting cancer at some point in their lives.

    Below are 10 warning signs of cancer in both dogs and cats. Please understand that these are just potential warning signs and should not panic you, but prompt a visit to your veterinarian.Chart showing dog's lymph nodes

    1. Swollen lymph nodes: These “glands” are located all throughout the body but are most easily detected behind the jaw or behind the knee. When these lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the diagnosis.

    2. An enlarging or changing lump: Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.

    3. Abdominal distension: When the “stomach” or belly becomes rapidly enlarged, this may suggest a mass or tumor in the abdomen or it may indicate some bleeding that is occurring in this area. A radiograph or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful.

    4. Chronic weight loss: When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss.

    5. Chronic vomiting or diarrhea: Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea should prompt further investigation. Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.

    6.Unexplained bleeding: Bleeding from the mouth, nose, penis, vagina or gums that is not due to trauma should be examined. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered while pets are young. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough search should be undertaken.

    7. Cough: A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of coughs in dogs and cats.

    8. Lameness: Unexplained lameness especially in large or giant breed dogs is a very common sign of bone cancer. Radiographs of the affected area are useful for detecting cancer of the bone.

    9. Straining to urinate: Straining to urinate and blood in the urine usually indicate a common urinary tract infection; if the straining and bleeding are not rapidly controlled with antibiotics or are recurrent, cancer of the bladder may be the underlying cause. Cystoscopy or other techniques that allow a veterinarian to take a biopsy of the bladder are useful and sometimes necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis in these cases.

    10. Oral odor: Oral tumors do occur in pets and can cause a pet to change its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods) or cause a pet to change the manner in which it chews its food. Many times a foul odor can be detected in pets with oral tumors. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating sedation, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.

    Now with the powerful tool of Genome X, we will soon be able to look at the genetics of a dog and tell if a particular dog has a high or low risk factor for certain types of cancer.