Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What You NEED to Know About Cancer Treatments

By Michelle Spencer, Veterinary Technician, Oncology Specialist
Welcome to our series on companion animal cancer. In the previous article, we discussed events that typically occur after your pet has been diagnosed with cancer. In this article, we answer some questions about chemotherapy treatments and present tips on how to find the best oncology team for your pet.

Choosing a treatment facility

Veterinary oncology is still a growing field. In some cases, usually due to geographical or financial concerns, your choices may be limited. If you do have the opportunity to choose from more than one treatment facility, ask yourself a few questions:
  • Is your doctor a board certified Veterinary Oncologist?
  • How far away is their office? How well does your pet handle the trip? Will you be able to travel there weekly, monthly, etc? Do they have hours that will accommodate your schedule?
  • Do they offer financial plans, counseling, assistance?
  • Will your pet remain with you during treatments? Will you drop your pet off for the day for treatment?


Dog receiving chemotherapyThe word itself makes you cringe. But, remember, the goal of cancer treatment in pets is to control or eradicate cancer cells while preserving a good quality of life. Cancer treatment is fluid and there is room for assessment at each step in the road.

Some cancers normally respond very well to chemotherapy, while others do not. Your veterinary oncologist will be your most reliable source of information on this subject and will guide you through the decision making process.

Chemotherapy typically comes in the form of pills or liquid injectables. Intravenous, intramuscular and subcutaneous injections must be given at your veterinary office by qualified doctors and technicians. Some injections take just minutes, while others are delivered over a period of hours. At some clinics, you may be allowed to stay with your pet if they are receiving a short injection. Intravenous chemotherapy can be dangerous if it leaks outside of a vein, so it is best for your pet to remain calm and still during treatment. If your presence seems to excite your pet, the staff may ask you to wait outside for a bit while the treatment is in progress. In rare instances, some pets may require medication to help them relax during the injection.

If your pet is receiving a treatment that is given over a number of hours, you will be asked to leave them at the facility during that time. Normally, in such cases, there are rules and regulations in place to keep both you and your pet safe during lengthy chemotherapy infusions.  For instance, only a qualified staff member can attend to urine, feces and vomit should they occur during an infusion.

Chemotherapy treatments tend to follow a proven protocol or schedule. You should be presented with a schedule prior to treatment. The schedule should also include information about when certain blood tests must be run. While these blood tests normally do not indicate the cancers response, they will provide critical information about how your pet’s organs are handling treatment and alert you to infections.

Some pets may also qualify for a clinical trial. Normally, your veterinarian will present this option to you if they think it may be appropriate for your pet. Occasionally, some companies will provide you with free or discounted medications for participating in their trial.

Speaking with your veterinarian about the common and not so common side effects of chemotherapy and the proper precautions needed when cleaning up after a pet who has recently received a chemotherapy treatment, is a very important step. These issues will be addressed further in an upcoming article.

In our next article, we will discuss common side effects of chemotherapy agents, and the medications used to treat them. 
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