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  1. Are ALL breeds at risk for cancer?

    This is a question I am often asked by family and friends who are looking for a dog. The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is yes–ALL breeds, ALL dogs, ALL cats have a risk for getting cancer in their lifetime. Just as all people have a chance of getting this awful disease. As it turns out, the overall risk is about 30% overall, whether you are a dog, cat, human or even a blue whale (as Carl Zimmer pointed out in a recent blog post (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2011/02/28/the-mere-existence-of-whales/).

    Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain dogs- these are some of the breeds we often think of when talking about cancer. Lymphoma is common in Goldens, Boxers and many other breeds. Osteosarcoma is all too familiar for owners of Rottweilers, Greyhounds, and giant breeds in general. The Scottish Terrier has an 18 fold higher chance of developing bladder cancer (transitional cell carcinoma) than the average dog.

    In a recent landmark study, researchers determined the breed-specific causes of death (Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 2011; 25 (2): 187 ). As it turns out, cancer is one of, if not the leading cause of death in larger dogs.

    The unfortunate truth–any dog or cat can develop cancer. I have seen mutts, mixed breeds, dogs of all shapes and sizes develop cancer. There is no breed that is immune from this disease. So the best advice I can give you if you are looking for a pet–find a dog or cat that you love, whether that be through a rescue organization or a breeder. Take care of the pet with routine health check ups, a complete and balanced diet, and as the pet gets older, talk to your veterinarian about screening tests for cancer–catching this diseaese early is still helpful whether you are a dog, cat or person.

  2. I Can’t Afford Treatment

    We hear this a lot, especially over the last 3 years during the economic downturn. While it is true that treating your dog or cat with cancer can be very costly, it does not have to be. While the traditional therapies of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy remain the standards and they are usually (but not always) the most effective therapy for a particular type of cancer they are not the only options any more. Over the past few years the number of options to treat cancer in pets have mushroomed. There are more protocols and types of therapy now than there ever was.

    We now utilize anti-angiogenic therapy and metronomic therapy. These two types of treatment typically utilize oral medications. They are also less costly than many other protocols–and in some cases equally as effective.

    A great example is “Penny” a 14 year old mix breed who was diagnosed with a low grade sarcoma 2 years ago. The owners opted for anti-angiogenic therapy as they could not afford traditional radiation therapy or chemotherapy. It has been 2 years and “Penny” is still doing well and her owners are thrilled that they were able to do something for their pet.

    At our practice in Norwalk, we also participate in many clinical trials. One of the advantages of clinical trials is that they are either partially or fully funded. This means direct and in some cases, substantial savings to the pet owner. This is just one of the advantages of clinical trials–I will discuss the other advantages in a later post.

    So, the next time you think “I can’t afford to treat my pet with cancer,” you may need to think again.

  3. Age is Not a Disease

    As far as treating animals with cancer, it is absolutely true: Age is not a disease. What I mean by this is that a pet’s numerical age has very little to do with my decision as a veterinary oncologist to recommend to treat or not to treat a pet. What matters more is how the pet is doing–is it still vibrant, is it biologically and biochemically healthy, and what type of therapy I am recommending. To illustrate the point, I often relate the story of the vibrant 75 year old woman who has broken her leg. Do you deny her therapy because she is too old? She has in fact lived longer than the average. Most people would clearly recommend fixing her leg. So although age is indeed a factor, it should not be THE factor in the decision about whether to treat your pets cancer or not.

    There are many pets that develop cancer later in life that do incredibly well. I am reminded of “Sasha”, a 16 year old dog with stage V lymphoma–a very advanced stage. Despite her age, the owners elected to treat her with injectable chemotherapy. Rather than consign her to a lesser therapy due to her age, we decided to treat her aggressively as she was otherwise a healthy dog. It is now 5 months later and “Sasha” is amazing everyone. She is in complete remission and behaving like she did when she was a mere 12 year old.

    In fact, the more pets I treat and the older I get, the more true this saying becomes.