Which Pet Cancer Treatment Option is Right for My Dog or Cat?

PetCure Oncology at VRIC Sandra Simko, DVMAs veterinary medicine advances and better treatment technology is made available, pet cancer is now a treatable disease – and in an increasing number of cases, it is potentially even curable.

Does that mean that every dog or cat’s cancer can be cured? Unfortunately, no. Factors such as tumor type, size, and location combine with variables like early detection and treatment options to dictate what a realistic outcome looks like for each individual patient. And every patient is different.

If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, the choices can seem overwhelming. Depending on the specific type of cancer a pet has, treatment may include the following, either alone or in combination:

The most common cancer treatments

  • Surgery
    Surgery is often the first line of treatment when localized cancer can be removed completely. The best-case scenario will always involve having the patient in one room and the tumor in another. In situations where the prospect of total removal is uncertain, however, the decision becomes more difficult.
  • Chemotherapy
    Powerful drugs are used to destroy or damage cancer cells, particularly blood-cell cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia, and cancers that have spread (metastasized) or are likely to. It may be given orally (pills), intravenously, or directly into a tumor. Fortunately, dogs and cats generally tolerate chemotherapy much better than human patients.
  • Stereotactic Radiation (SRS/SRT)
    A leading treatment option in human cancer care is now available for pets. This advanced form of radiation therapy is highly effective in treating cancer and is usually delivered with the intent to cure, as opposed to merely easing symptoms. Utilizing sub-millimeter precision that is unprecedented in veterinary medicine, stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT) directly targets the tumor while mostly sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. It can even be used to treat some cancers previously considered untreatable in sensitive areas of the body such as the brain, spine or lungs. SRS/SRT is a nonsurgical procedure that eliminates most side effects and requires only 1-3 treatments, an 80-95% reduction in both treatment sessions and anesthetic events compared to conventional radiation therapy. This means your pet is spending less time in the hospital and can get back to their favorite activities much sooner.
  • Conventional radiation therapy
    Conventionally fractionated radiation therapy (CFRT) uses targeted radiation to shrink or destroy cancers that cannot be safely or completely removed by surgery alone. It can also be utilized in conjunction with, or in place of, chemotherapy, or delivered following surgery if the initial procedure is unable to completely remove cancer. CFRT is typically administered in 15-21 treatment sessions over 3-7 weeks. Pets will need to be anesthetized to ensure they remain still during each session.
  • Palliative Care
    Sometimes pet owners opt not to treat cancer for a number of reasons, particularly if a cure is not possible. In this case, palliative care—which includes pain management—can be used to increase a pet’s comfort and quality of life. Typically delivered in weekly low-dose radiation treatments over 3-6 weeks, the goal is to relieve symptoms such as pain, bleeding and decreased mobility.
  • Immunotherapy
    A biological therapy that involves the use of antibodies to boost the body’s natural defenses by either stimulating the immune system to fight the cancer cells or by counteracting signals produced by cancer cells that suppress the immune system.
  • Cryotherapy
    The use of cold temperatures to kill cells. It is best suited for small, superficial tumors and is commonly used in areas such as the skin, eyelids, oral cavity, and peri-anal region.
  • Radioactive Iodine I-131
    Hyperthyroidism is one of the most common endocrine disorders diagnosed in cats. It can be treated surgically, medically or with radioactive iodine therapy (I-131). Most cats (90-95%) will have a benign, functional thyroid adenoma (tumor) that produces excessive thyroid hormone but has no risk of metastasis. A very small percentage of cats will have a thyroid carcinoma. Treatment with I-131 is the only option to treat the dysfunctional thyroid tissue with minimal impact on normal tissue.