The Oncology service at BRVS is focused on providing state of the art diagnostics, treatment and care for your family member. The Oncology team is always ready to help your pet, whether as a scheduled appointment or on an emergency basis.
Dr. Jennifer Arthur’s step-by-step approach focuses on taking the fear out of knowing your pet has cancer and replacing that fear with hope. Advancements in Veterinary Oncology now allow us to provide an optimal quality of life and prolonged survival with minimal side effects. Consultation with Dr. Arthur will give you the information needed to make the decision that is for your family.
Chemotherapy, by definition, is the treatment of disease (cancer) by using drugs that are toxic to cancer cells. These agents work by killing actively dividing cells, which is a hallmark of cancer. Chemotherapy is often used in conjunction with procedures such as surgery and/or radiation therapy, but in some cases it may be the only form of treatment needed.
Chemotherapy is most often given by injection, but in some instances it may be given in the form of pills that can be swallowed. Injectable chemotherapy can be given under the skin (subcutaneous, SQ), as a quick injection in the vein (intravenous, IV), or as a slow infusion (up to several hours).
The primary goal of treatment is to improve and extend each patient’s survival time, while maintaining an excellent quality of life. Dr. Arthur will provide pet owners with detailed information about survival times (with and without treatment) at the initial consultation. These survival times are highly varied based on tumor type and location.
The number and type of chemotherapy treatments given is based on the type of cancer, the chemotherapy protocol chosen, and the pet’s responsiveness to treatment. There are many protocols available, and the success and prognosis associated with each protocol differ. In a few cases, long-term maintenance chemotherapy may be recommended.
The vast majority of chemotherapy treatments are given on an outpatient basis. Your pet will spend several hours to a full day in the hospital, but will be able to go home that same day. Overnight hospitalization may be needed to treat side effects of the cancer itself, or in the very low percentage of patients with chemotherapy side effects that require aggressive care for 24-48 hours.
Cancer treatment can be expensive. Pets will be receiving care from highly skilled staff and will benefit from specialists with years of training and experience in oncology. The cost of treatment depends on many variables including the cancer type, chemotherapy protocol, patient size, treatment duration. A written estimate will be provided for all available work-up and treatment options.
A pet’s daily routine should be as normal and uninterrupted as possible. Pet owners should continue giving their pets heartworm, flea and tick preventives. Because chemotherapy affects the immune system, annual vaccinations need to be discussed with the oncologist prior to administration.
It may also be necessary to limit interaction with unknown or potentially sick pets at certain points following chemotherapy if the immune system is compromised. Pet owners should consult with their oncologist about specific health conditions and any medications their pet is taking.
Almost all chemotherapy agents have the potential to induce side effects, but they would not be used if their potential benefits did not outweigh the possible risks. Unlike people receiving chemotherapy, the vast majority (80-90%) of dogs and cats have minimal to no side effects. However, a small number of patients may have moderate to severe side effects. Rarely is a side effect life-threatening to the patient.
Chemotherapy side effects occur as a result of the toxic effects that chemotherapy agents have on the normal cells in the body. The majority of the normal cells that may be affected are rapidly dividing cells found in the lining of the intestines (GI tract) and in the bone marrow. There may be other specific toxicities associated with various chemotherapy agents on particular organs, and these will be discussed when indicated.
If they occur, the most common side effects associated with the GI tract can include nausea, vomiting, and or diarrhea. The side effects associated with the bone marrow include a decrease in the white cell count leading to immunosuppression (a compromised ability of the body to fight infection), loss of appetite and lethargy. It is rare to affect other bone marrow-derived cells such as the platelets and red blood cells.
Many side effects, such as those associated with the GI tract, are not immediate, but become evident three to five days after
treatment. In the majority of cases, the side effects are limited to no more than 24 to 48 hours and can me managed at home with diet changes and/or oral medications. The white cell count is typically at its lowest point 7 to 10 days post treatment, after which, the cell counts usually rebound quickly. Antibiotics may be given to prevent infection while these counts are returning to normal.
The goal of cancer treatment is to keep your pet’s quality of life as high as possible, while extending survival time as long as we can. An excellent quality of life is always Dr. Arthur’s primary goal, so if your pet does experience significant side effects, we will either change the protocol or switch to palliative care. It is very important that the treatment is never worse than the disease.
In order to determine the extent of disease, and the overall health of the patient, additional work-up may be recommended, including:
Palliative care is a method of care in which a decision has been made to decline or withdraw the pursuit of curative therapy for a chronic illness. Dr. Arthur and the team at BRVS will work closely with your family veterinarian to relieve discomfort, relieve distress, and maintain the highest quality of life possible for as long as we are able.