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Frequently Asked Questions About Cancer

Veterinary Cancer & Surgery Specialists Treatment

What is cancer?
How is cancer diagnosed?
What is staging?
What is the importance of tumor grade?
How can you help your pet?
How is your primary care veterinarian involved?
What options are available for treatment?
What are some warning signs of cancer?
What common factors heighten the risk of cancer?

What is cancer?

Cancer is the unregulated growth of cells in the body, often resulting in the formation of a mass or lump called a tumor. Cancer can be benign or malignant. Benign cancers tend to be slow growing and do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant cancers are faster growing, invasive and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. Looking at the size, shape, and behavior of cells under a microscope helps to tell whether a cancer is benign or malignant.

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How is cancer diagnosed?

Cytology: This is a type of test used to diagnose cancer. A fine needle aspirate is a procedure performed using a small needle and syringe to collect a sample of cells from a tumor. This test is generally performed on an awake patient and the results are often available within 24 hours of the test.

Histopathology: This is a type of test used to diagnose cancer. In a heavily sedated or anesthetized patient, a small sample of tumor or the entire tumor is removed from the patient and sent to a pathology lab for evaluation. Results are generally available within a week. Histopathology gives a more detailed description and often a better idea of an exact diagnosis and prognosis.

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What is staging?

Staging is the interpretation of several diagnostic tests to determine whether and where a cancer has spread in the body. Staging may include sampling lymph nodes, chest radiographs, abdominal radiographs, abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan, blood work, special stains, or bone marrow aspiration. Staging is important in determining the prognosis of a cancer.

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What is the importance of tumor grade?

Tumors are graded on a scale of low, intermediate, and high. These grades correlate to how fast growing and aggressive a malignant cancer is behaving. Low grade cancers are more slow growing and have a lower risk for spread than high grade cancers. This is important in determining prognosis.

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How can you help your pet?

Seeking knowledge and asking questions about your pet’s diagnosis is the first step in helping to make sure you are doing everything you can for your pet. Continue to provide a supportive, loving, and caring environment for your pet. Surround yourself with people who care. We are here to help provide medical support and direction with health care for your pet. If you need additional support, please let us know.

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How is your primary care veterinarian involved?

Veterinary Cancer & Surgery Specialists believes that your primary veterinarian is an integral part of your pet’s wellness. By sharing information, we can best promote healing and provide hope. Your pet’s primary veterinarian is kept updated on all laboratory tests, exams, and options that are discussed, with you and your family. We work as a specialized extension of your veterinarian’s health team. We also see ourselves as an extension of your family and care for your pet as we would our own.

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What options are available for treatment?

The conventional treatments for cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Novel treatments are being developed all the time to help treat cancer. Nutrition, supplements, and complementary medicine may also be beneficial in the overall health of cancer patients.

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What are some warning signs of cancer?

The following information is written by Dr. Gerald S. Post. Dr. Post is a board-certified specialist in veterinary oncology and the Founder and President of the Animal Cancer Foundation.

Below are 10 warning signs of cancer in both dogs and cats. Please understand that these are just potential warning signs and should not panic you, but prompt a visit to your veterinarian.

  1. Swollen lymph nodes: These “glands” are located all 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.
  2. An enlarging or changing lump: Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy–the removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.
  3. 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 (X-ray) or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Unexplained bleeding: Bleeding from the mouth, nose, penis, vagina 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Lameness: Unexplained difficulty walking–or the favoring of one limb over another–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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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, under anesthesia, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.

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What common factors heighten the risk of cancer?

Second hand smoke has been linked to cancer formation in dogs and cats. Feline leukemia virus and the feline immunodeficiency virus have been linked to cancers in cats. There are certain breeds of dogs which are at a higher risk for certain types of cancer than other breeds. Regardless of the breed (mixed breeds included!), you should watch for the signs of cancer and bring any concerns you may have to the attention of your family veterinarian. Your veterinarian can then run the appropriate tests to determine if a diagnosis of cancer is correct.

The most common cause of death of pets over 10 years of age is cancer. We recommend your family veterinarian perform a physical exam twice yearly, along with blood work and chest x-rays once your pet has reached the age of seven.

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