November 2016: National Pet Cancer Awareness Month
As with Humans, Cancer is a leading cause of death for dogs and cats. In fact, Cancer is the #1 killer of our pets. Like most other fatal and chronic diseases, the majority of pet owners fail to understand just how widespread the problem is in the pet population. Many pet owners also fail to understand the exact signs and symptoms as well, posing even greater danger for their pets.
Identifying and discovering symptoms is one of the most important factors in defeating diseases like Cancer. It's also critically important to dismiss some of the false information being spread about pet cancer treatment and care options as well. To combat these problems, a fantastic list of Pet Cancer Signs & Symptoms was put together by Dr. Gerald Post of the esteemed Veterinary Cancer Center:
Swollen Lymph Nodes: These “glands” are located throughout the body but are most easily detected behind the jaw or behind the knee. When these lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the diagnosis.
An Enlarging or Changing Lump: Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.
Abdominal Distension: When the “stomach” or belly becomes rapidly enlarged, this may suggest a mass or tumor in the abdomen or it may indicate some bleeding that is occurring in this area. A radiograph or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful.
Chronic Weight Loss: When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss.
Chronic Vomiting or Diarrhea: Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea should prompt further investigation. Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.
Unexplained Bleeding: Bleeding from the mouth, nose, or gums that is not due to trauma should be examined. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered while pets are young. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough search should be undertaken.
Cough: A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of cough in dogs and cats.
Lameness: Unexplained lameness especially in large or giant breed dogs is a very common sign of bone cancer. Radiographs of the affected area are useful for detecting cancer of the bone.
Straining to Urinate: Straining to urinate and blood in the urine usually indicate a common urinary tract infection; if the straining and bleeding are not rapidly controlled with antibiotics or are recurrent, cancer of the bladder may be the underlying cause. Cystoscopy or other techniques that allow a veterinarian to take a biopsy of the bladder are useful and sometimes necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis in these cases.
Oral Odor: Oral tumors do occur in pets and can cause a pet to change its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods) or cause a pet to change the manner in which it chews its food. Many times a foul odor can be detected in pets with oral tumors. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating sedation, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.
So you've identified a cancerous symptom and the veterinarian has given you confirmation of the bad news, what should pet owners expect next? With such a rollercoaster ride of emotions it's often hard for pet owners to come to terms with the situation. It's for this reason that the Animal Cancer Foundation (ACF), serves as one of the leading organizations for pet owners, providing support, information and referrals to support agencies for personalized help.
ACF is also the leading philanthropic organization committed to funding and accelerating comparative oncology research to find a cure for the millions of pets and people affected by cancer. Since 1999, ACF has remained a beacon of truth in world of so much misinformation, providing answers to the top Pet Cancer Myths:
MYTH: Cancer is a death sentence.
FALSE: Depending upon the type of cancer diagnosed, new therapies have increased both survival time and pet quality of life. Just as with cancer in people, every pet is an individual. Don't be afraid to seek out second opinions for your pet; you have choices! Gather all information you can before making your decision; there are no "right" answers, but there are INFORMED decisions.
MYTH: Pets suffer similar side-effects to people from chemotherapy
FALSE: Veterinary oncologists use milder treatment protocols to enhance quality and length of life. 95% of pet patients are treated as outpatients and clinic visits typically last under one hour. Pets do NOT lose their fur from chemotherapy (pets with hair may experience hair loss). Because of less toxic protocols, pets are unlikely to experience nausea. New medications are used in those cases to prevent reactions.
MYTH: Cancer prevention for pets doesn't exist
FALSE: Obesity is a risk factor for cancer, give pets exercise and healthy food and treats. Just as in people, early detection is a key factor in survival. Make annual veterinary appointments; know the warning signs!
Advocacy, Awareness & Action
With knowledge comes power, and with awareness and action we can collectively work together to solve the problem of Pet Cancer. Spread the word to help make Pet Cancer Awareness Month a time of advocacy and action. If you have the means to do so, please consider also donating to the Animal Cancer Foundation (ACF) at the link below: