No other area of companion animal health care has expanded as robustly as veterinary oncology. In the last 30 years, veterinary oncology has developed from an interest group to a multi-specialty, international network of clinical professionals. In total, there may now be more than 1,000 veterinarians that have achieved a formal credential in either medical oncology, radiation oncology or surgery in the United States. Equally critical to patient care are the affiliated specialties of anesthesia, pain management, rehabilitation medicine, imaging, pharmacy/pharmacology and counseling.
Curative therapies for some cancers with less impact on normal tissues are more available than ever. In particular, the delivery of stereotactic radiation therapy and use of specifically targeted compounds have evolved in the last decade with improved quality of life after treatment. Surgical techniques are constantly evolving. Advanced material engineering and better imaging pre-surgery to define the tumor-normal tissue interface are important new areas. For instance, clever integration of prosthetic materials for limb preservation in dogs with osteosarcoma or other tumors are rapidly becoming more available. Of course, much work is currently focused on appropriate combinations of traditional therapies.
Development of new methods for symptom management, pain, and palliative care is perhaps the most widely applicable advance to benefit dogs and cats with cancer. As a clinician myself, I am constantly impressed with the numerous alternatives for supporting patients’ symptoms and concurrent disorders while progressing through cancer treatment. For those patients for whom cure is not an option, we can now provide a quality of life for many of the most debilitating effects of cancer.
We are in an era of harnessing the patient’s immune system against cancer. Excitement about the immune-based responses in human cancers leads to anticipation that we may also be adding a new weapon for our patients. While vigorous research is ongoing in this area, it seems like we just can’t move such therapies quickly enough into clinical practice, but careful clinical investigation of new strategies is necessary.
Clinical investigation of advances in animal health is the backbone of the growth of veterinary oncology. Indeed, ethical, well-managed studies to improve the status quo has been the reason our dogs and cats live twice as long as they did just 40-50 years ago. Improved infectious disease management, nutrition, and dental hygiene are just some of the innovations that have been responsible for longer wellness. The AVMA website lists all clinical studies in the U.S. for pet owners to consider.
It is remarkable to see such growth during my career. I struggle to keep up with current recommendations and technology, BUT I am so grateful for the struggle. Yet, we still have great unmet needs – some types of cancer are still managed with strategies from my training period. The volume of new recruits into the specialties of cancer medicine and the resources now invested in studying canine cancer make me hopeful for the discoveries to come in the next 30 years.
Finding Oncology Support Professionals
While the Flint Animal Cancer Center is the largest comprehensive veterinary oncology center in the world, the exponential growth of this field means you’re likely to find a board certified veterinary oncologist in your own backyard – maybe even one who trained with us. The links below will help you find a veterinary oncologist in your area.