How Common is Cancer?
Did you know that as many as 1 in 4 dogs will develop a tumor of some kind in their life according to the American Veterinary Medical Association? Some of these tumors are benign, growing relatively slowly and non-invasively. They may displace, but do not tend to invade or harm the surrounding tissues and they do not spread throughout the body. Cancerous tumors, on the other hand, are more unpredictable, sometimes growing very rapidly. These tumors invade the tissues around them and metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body, wreaking havoc in otherwise healthy systems.
How are Tumors Found?
Tumors are often first discovered in your pet’s yearly (or twice-yearly, if they are a senior!) preventative care visit to your veterinarian. Sometimes additional testing, including X-Rays or blood tests, may be used to confirm the tumor itself, and a biopsy may be performed to learn more about the nature of the tumor.
Can tumors be prevented?
Unfortunately, the cause of most of these tumors is unknown, which makes prevention difficult. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of some cancers, so be sure to protect your pet from smoke.
Spaying and neutering can protect against certain cancers. Spaying before the age of 12 months reduces the risk of mammary cancer in female pets. Neutering eliminates the risk of testicular cancer in male pets.
Signs/Symptoms of Cancerous Tumors
If you notice changes in the body or behavior of your pet, it’s wise to talk to your veterinarian. Cancer can cause a wide range of symptoms depending on what tissue they interact with. Consult your veterinarian if you observe any of the following signs in your pet:
- Abdominal swelling
- Bleeding from the mouth, nose or other body openings
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty eating
- Lumps, bumps or discolored skin
- Non-healing wounds
- Persistent diarrhea or vomiting
- Sudden changes in weight
- Unexplained swelling, heat, pain or lameness
- Visible mass/tumor
Cancer treatment needs to be individualized to your pet’s unique situation. Treatment might include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, cryotherapy (freezing), hyperthermia (heating) or immunotherapy. Your pet’s overall health is important as well, and your veterinarian may recommend dietary changes, activity level changes, supportive therapies like acupuncture and herbal therapy, and pain management. Your veterinarian may refer you to a cancer specialist to make sure your pet receives the best care and maintains the highest quality of life.