What is cancer anyway? Essentially, cancer is unchecked cell growth that goes on in the body, eventually destroying normal tissues and body parts. Cancer can occur in any part of the body, and at any stage of life. All of the causes of cancer are not fully known, but genetics, environment and the state of an individual's immune system are all thought to play a role.
Nearly one in three dogs will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, and cancer currently accounts for about half the deaths of all dogs over the age of 10. Overall, cancer is the leading non-accidental cause of death in dogs. And, it’s on the rise. The types of cancers that affect dogs are often very similar to those faced by humans and include:
Lymphoma (Lymphosarcoma)—Cancer of the lymph nodes.Hemangiosarcoma—A tumor of cells that line blood vessels.Melanoma—Skin cancer.Osteosarcoma—Bone cancer.Mammary tumors—Breast cancer.Bladder cancer/Transitional Cell CarcinomaMast cell tumors—Highly malignant tumors that form on the skin.
Breeds that tend to have a higher incidence of cancer include Golden Retrievers, Boxers, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, Flat Coat Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Schnauzers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Danes, Greyhounds, and Standard Poodles.
Cancer in dogs is generally treated in one of three ways—surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, with chemotherapy being the most common. Frequently, a combination of these approaches will be used depending on the type of cancer diagnosed.
Newer types of treatment include: - Cancer Vaccines (i.e. for Canine Oral Melanoma) - Metronomic chemotherapy - CyberKnife surgery - Hyperthermia - Tomotherapy - Bone Marrow Transplants
While holistic, natural approaches to cancer treatment can be used as a primary method of treatment, the conventional treatments listed above generally provide the highest likelihood of cure or remission. Holistic treatments can then supplement these conventional approaches to minimize side effects and boost the body’s natural healing powers. In most cases, conventional treatment can prolong life, while holistic treatments can improve quality of life.
Cancer treatment for animals is always focused on providing the animal with the highest possible quality of life for the longest amount of time possible. That is why dogs typically do so well while undergoing chemotherapy compared with the toll it takes on humans.
While this philosophy is extremely important since our companion animals cannot really consent to their own medical treatments, it can sometimes come at the expense of a cure, such as in those cases where a more aggressive treatment plan could potentially wipe out the cancer completely, but sacrifice too much of the animal’s quality of life and is therefore scaled back to ensure their comfort and ability to perform basic tasks. This is one of the reasons that lymphoma, for example, is a deadlier disease in canines than in humans.
The good news is that thanks to the emergence of “Veterinary Oncology” as a field of study, and the dedication of countless researchers and veterinary cancer specialists, cancer treatment for dogs has come a very long way in the past three decades. Many types of cancer CAN now be cured through conventional treatments, or put into remission for longer periods of time than ever before. In fact, many cancer treatments available for people are also available for dogs, and new cancer treatments are being developed every day.
The bad news is that, while treatment options for dogs with cancer have improved significantly over the years, treatment is often very expensive, and for some pet owners with limited resources, they literally have to make the decision of treating their pet, or paying the bills. Over the course of treatment, it is not uncommon to spend several thousand euros between diagnostic testing, treatments, surgery, medications and other vet-related expenses. For those without easy access to information about canine cancer, many pet owners wrongly assume that cancer is automatically a death sentence and make the choice to euthanize their pets without considering other traditional or holistic treatment options. In both of these cases, dogs that may have a chance of achieving remission and maintaining their quality of life for months, or even years, are not given the chance to survive.
If you are here, you are on the right track...educating yourself and discovering ways that you can help maintain your pup’s quality of life for as long as possible. Everyone’s journey with cancer is different, but you are not alone.