Once your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, the team at the Flint Animal Cancer Center will discuss treatment options with you. Depending on the type of cancer, the location, and how advanced the disease, your pet’s oncologist may recommend one treatment or a combination of treatments. Similar to cancer treatment in people, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are often used alone or in combination to control cancer in pets. The Flint Animal Cancer Center also offers many clinical trials each year, one of which may be appropriate for your pet.
Please note that each treatment plan is customized and we work with you to determine the right care for your pet. The video and content provided below will give you general information about treatment options that may be available.
Dog Cancer Reflections
Surgery is the most commonly used technique to treat cancer in companion animals. The best chance to achieve complete surgical removal of cancer is during the first surgical procedure and is often best performed by a surgeon with experience in surgical oncology. Flint Animal Cancer Center surgeons work as part of a comprehensive team of medical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, criticalists, and certified veterinary technicians to ensure our patients have the best care and treatment possible.
Chemotherapy is drug therapy designed to kill or slow the growth of cancers. Many of the drugs used to treat cancer in pets are derived from natural substances such as plants, trees or even bacteria and are often the same drugs used in people. Chemotherapy is frequently used to treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, to treat cancer that cannot be treated with surgery or radiation therapy alone or when it may enhance the effectiveness of these treatments.
The goal of chemotherapy is to control or eliminate the cancer while still providing the highest quality of life to your pet. Chemotherapy drugs sometimes do not cure cancer, but rather control the cancer by killing cells and slow the progression of the disease. Many chemotherapy protocols involve a series of treatments, followed by a period of careful observation. However, in some patients with advanced disease, chemotherapy may be continued as long as it is controlling the cancer.
Learn more about chemotherapy to treat pet cancer.
Radiation therapy uses ionizing radiation to damage the DNA in tumor cells, resulting in tumor cell death. One of the reasons it is effective against cancer cells is that cancer cells are routinely dividing. Radiation is usually administered with the goal of achieving long term tumor control. This is referred to as radiation therapy with curative intent. Depending on the part of the body bearing the tumor, most veterinary patients treated with curative intent protocols are treated over a 3-4 week period. A small “fraction” of radiation is delivered each day. There are also times when high doses of specifically targeted radiation can be used. This is called stereotactic radiation and is often delivered in one to five doses, depending on the location of the body being treated.
Additionally, there are times when radiation is administered to relieve the patient of pain and compromising symptoms and/or improve quality of life. This is referred to as palliative radiation therapy. Palliative protocols are most commonly used when the patient has advanced cancer, metastasis, or some other critical condition that would limit life expectancy. These protocols vary and may involve weekly treatments or treatments given over the course of a few days.
Clinical trials are research studies that are used in all specialties of medicine to evaluate new types of treatment. Clinical trials may be designed to determine the anti-cancer effects and side effects of new drugs, new surgical procedures, new radiation therapy procedures, or novel approaches to treatment (such as gene therapy or immunotherapy). The Flint Animal Cancer Center conducts approximately 20 clinical trials each year.
Each clinical trial has specific eligibility criteria that need to be fulfilled in order for a pet to participate, and these vary among studies. Some clinical trials are designed for animals with a specific cancer diagnosis (i.e. lymphoma), while others are open to animals with a variety of cancer types. In general, animals need to be feeling relatively well overall and be otherwise healthy with no significant concurrent medical issues in order to qualify for clinical trials. In addition, the owners must be willing to comply with study protocols and commit to coming into the clinic for the visits that are required by the trial.