Here are three basic types of treatment – surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Several other new pet cancer therapy treatments are also sometimes available, such as photodynamic therapy or immunotherapy. Some forms of treatment require frequent visits to your own vet, or to veterinary medicine specialists.
Surgery: often chosen for tumors of the skin, or for internal growths that appear to be distinct. The lump removed usually needs to be analyzed to determine if it may have spread. Sometimes with internal growths where the size of the tumor is affecting function, surgery can relieve the symptoms but the risk of recurrence remains. In cases of osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone) limb amputation - though a difficult decision for pet parents - may be indicated.
Chemotherapy: a treatment option appropriate for several types of cancer. Numerous studies show that veterinary chemotherapy often has few, or no side effects, due to the fact that the relative doses used are smaller than those used in humans. Unfortunately, it does not usually cure the cancer – the aim is to slow the cancer cells down and reduce the symptoms.
Chemotherapy is sometimes carried out following surgery, especially if it has not been possible to remove the entire cancer, to try to slow down recurrence. It is also used in widespread cancers that cannot be surgically removed, such as those involving the white blood cells (leukemias).
Some types of chemotherapy may be available from your own vet; others are only carried out by specialists. Regular visits to the vet for treatment are usually essential and sedation may be needed during treatment. You may need to give tablets as well. Possible side effects from chemotherapy include a short period of reduced appetite, vomiting or diarrhea. Sometimes the drugs will cause the white blood cell count to drop, which can increase the likelihood of infections, so blood tests are usually taken to check for this during treatment.
Radiation/Nuclear Medicine: available at specialist centers. Again, radiation therapy does not usually cure, and regular visits are often needed for a period of time. Because your pet needs to be absolutely still for the radiation treatment, a short general anesthetic is given for each treatment.