Common Cancer Questions
Common Questions I Get About Cancer
How common is cancer?
It is a leading cause of death in older animals. Statistics from the Animal Cancer Foundation estimate 1 out of every 4 dogs will develop cancer and each year 8 million dogs are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer in cats is probably half what we see in dogs. But when we see cancer in cats, it tends to be a more aggressive form. I feel the main reason for this is that cats often mask symptoms, so that it is harder to diagnose in cats and caught later.
What kind of cancer do pets get?
One of the most common cancers we see in cats is lymphoma. We also see oral squamous carcinoma, similar to what people get. We see a tumor called fibrosarcoma, or injection site sarcoma, which is a tumor developing in muscle or in the connective tissue of the body. We see other kinds of tumors as well, but they are much less common -- lung tumors, brain tumors, nasal tumors, liver tumors. We don't see as many mammary tumors these days because so many people have their cats spayed.
In contrast Mammary Adenocarcinoma is the most common cancer seen in dogs still according to the Veterinary Cancer Society. I believe lipomas are the most common tumor seen in dogs. Skin cancer like squamous cell carcinoma and mast cell tumors are common, while we see many with lymphoma, adenomas, leukemias and osteosarcomas to name a few.
What can be done to detect cancer?
To improve chances of catching cancer earlier, I recommend semiannual exams.
• Checking your pet from head to toe to look for abnormal skin growths
• Enlarged masses inside the abdomen can often be palpated
• Heart sounds being muffled
• Lung sounds absent
• Abnormalities in the eyes, ears and mouth.
• However, not all cancer can be detected with a physical exam and in these cases I will recommend blood or urine tests, as well as radiographs (X-Rays) to look for cancer.
Are some cancers easier to treat than others?
Yes, factors include
• type of cancer
• stage (early detection results in better prognosis)
Are Chemo and Radiation treatments bad, like in people?
While remission is the ultimate goal, quality of life in pets is equally important. Treatments are generally less aggressive and pets do not suffer the typical side effects like nausea vomiting hair loss and extreme fatigue. If side effects occur the oncologist will adjust the regimen to keep your pet as comfortable as possible.
Why do we see more cancer than we used to?
Cancer results largely from cell replication errors, the older you are, the more often your cells have divided and thus the greater your risk of developing cancer. The same is true for other species, which is why domesticated animals seem to get more cancer than their short-lived peers in the wild. Fish, reptiles, and amphibians also tend to have shorter lifespans than mammals, and as our ability to fight off infectious diseases and other early killers has extended our own lifespans, we're now living long enough to die from cancer instead. Research on genetically modified organisms (GMO's) has been inconclusive. "To some degree everything is genetically modified," says Clare McKindley, clinical dietitian in MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. Sticking with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains outweighs any GMO health concerns when it comes to cancer risks. This becomes more of an issue with our pets and their food. And it's not just vitamins and antioxidants. Studies show taking supplements increase your likelihood of getting cancer. There is something in the eating of the fresh fruits and vegetables which is lost in the processing, which includes whole grains alike. When it comes to diet, consuming too many calories and becoming obese does increase your cancer risk. Which is probably America's biggest predisposing factor. Sugar itself fuels cancer activity more than proteins. There is a solid link between cancer and chronic inflammation, the body's natural defense against all manner of cellular injuries. Excess consumption of sugar, in addition to eating trans-fats and refined carbs, does cause chronic inflammation.
Is there hope for future animals with cancer?
Yes, a cancer vaccine is showing promise in canine trials.
Yale researcher Mark Mamula is conducting cancer vaccine trials in dogs. The vaccines are geared toward aggressive cancers in dogs and humans including certain types of breast, colon and bone cancers. "The reason that this trial is very important to our proposed human trials is that canine cancers look, for all the world, very similar to human cancers," Mamula said. "They progress and are aggressive much in identical ways that human cancers are."