Cancer Education

Cancer is an unrestrained growth of cells that occurs despite the body’s anticancer defense mechanisms or immune system. It Cancer begins with a single cell that fails to respond to orderly growth. This deregulated cancer cell begins to grow undetected for months to years before it is ever detected.

What Causes Cancer

Many things cause cancer, including genetic abnormalities that occur for many reasons such as tobacco smoke, certain nutrients, radiation, drugs, toxins, viruses, inflammation, pollution, chemicals, or any other substance that can damage the foundation of life, DNA.

Most cancers in veterinary medicine can be prevented by limiting exposure to:
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Pollutants
  • Chemicals
  • Certain viruses such as the canine leukemia virus

Early spaying and neutering, preventing obesity throughout life, and to exposure to diets that are likely to prevent cancer are additional ways to prevent the disease. The single most important thing that can be done to enhance the cure rate of cancer after it occurs is early detection and diagnosis. Therefore, presenting your pet to your veterinary healthcare team is essential so that cancer can be detected early before it is likely to spread throughout the body.

Cancer Growth

If your pet has a growth or tumor, your veterinary health care team will first work to determine if it is benign or malignant. Benign growths do not often aggressively spread throughout the body. For example, half of all breast cancers in pets are benign. Complete surgical excision of the tumor is necessary, but leaving it untreated can result in the death of the pet. If the tumor or growth is malignant, your veterinary health care team will first determine the name and usual behavior of the particular type of cancer. There are hundreds of different types of malignant tumors, all with differing behaviors. Understanding the grade, type, and stage of the cancer is very important to begin to develop strategies to defeat it.
  • The grade of the cancer is determined after the tumor is surgically removed to determine how fast it grows and how often it spreads throughout the body.
  • The stage of the tumor or cancer is determined by common diagnostic tests to determine how big the tumor is and where it is in the body.
  • The histopathologic or cytologic diagnosis is the determination of the name and type of cancer.

There are round cell tumors, carcinomas, and sarcomas. For example, within each of these cancer categories, there are different types of tumors. Mammary adenocarcinoma, salivary gland adenocarcinoma, and thyroid carcinoma are a few of the dozens of different types of carcinomas. Therefore, the determination of the stage, grade, and histopathologic or cytologic diagnosis empowers your veterinary health care team with the knowledge of the prognosis and the best way to defeat cancer locally, and if needed, throughout the body.

The word cancer is feared throughout the world, yet it is the most curable of all chronic diseases, and it is controllable in many of the patients that are not cured. Understanding this disease empowers you, the caregiver, and the veterinary health care team with important knowledge about the disease and the options for care.


Each tumor is different and unique. Each one must first be given a name; this is only possible with a biopsy or cytology (a test that helps determine the type of tumor). Once the tumor type is named (according to its location with an accompanying description based on the level of aggressiveness), an experienced, highly trained histopathologist can then begin to defeat it.

The “stage” of cancer is the determination of the extent of the disease within the body. A thorough physical examination, blood tests, radiotherapy (X-rays) and ultrasound are often used, among other tests, to find the location of cancer.

The quality of life is our first and greatest goal. By understanding the location, extent, and grade of cancer, we can maximize the quality of life.

Pain Management

Compassionate care is the watchword of your veterinary health care team, and pain control is the cornerstone of the caring process. Pain management can be difficult because pets may be secretive, which precludes identifying pain early when it is easiest to treat. The key to compassionate pain control is to intervene early with analgesics, optimally before pain receptors ever identify discomfort.

Recognizing Pain
Some pets rarely exhibit signs of pain until the discomfort is quite advanced. Indeed, the only indicator of pain and discomfort to the clinician may be increased systolic blood pressure. Experienced veterinary team members and caregivers watch for subtle changes in activity level, appetite, and movements. Vocalization is another sign, although it is not a specific indicator of pain, especially when discomfort is significant. Some pets become more reclusive, but others, especially younger pets, pace and may thrash around. Increased breathing rate, increased heart rate, and dilated pupils can be used to assess pain in pets, even when they seem dazed or lethargic. 

The best practitioners anticipate and intervene early rather than waiting for clinical signs associated with discomfort. The best scenario is when the caregiver is well educated about the procedures that could cause discomfort and provides early treatment. Indeed, pain relief measures preemptive analgesia should always be practiced whenever possible. Pets may instinctively hide most outward and measurable manifestations of pain and wait until the last minute before showing any signs of pain.

Pain Management
Comprehensive management of pain involves careful evaluation and treatment of each pet. To maximize the quality of life, response to therapy, and survival time for the patient, adequate pain control must be the highest goal for the veterinary practitioner. Pain control in veterinary medicine has come to the forefront of attention only recently, primarily because of the inappropriate attitudes of clinicians, lack of knowledge about pain medications, and lack of skill in assessing pain and appropriate therapeutic methods. In many cases, analgesics have been withheld because of fear of adverse side effects of these drugs and because insufficient scanty research exists demonstrating the beneficial effects of pain relief in pets. However, client demand has been an important force in bringing pain control to the forefront of compassionate care.

Questions you may want to ask your veterinarian health care team:

  • Is my pet in pain?
  • How can I recognize pain and discomfort?
  • What medicines are safe and effective for controlling pain in my pet?

The management of pain begins with high-quality, compassionate care by every member of the veterinary health care team. Careful nursing with gentle handling and provision of an environment that is comfortable and relaxing is of great benefit to the dog. Local anesthesia should be used whenever possible to alleviate discomfort. Systemic analgesia should be used whenever there is a possibility that discomfort is not alleviated by local analgesia.

Ten Common Signs of Cancer in Small Animals

  1. Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow.
  2. Sores that do not heal.
  3. Weight loss.
  4. Loss of appetite.
  5. Bleeding or discharge from any body opening.
  6. Offensive odor.
  7. Difficulty eating or swallowing.
  8. Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina.
  9. Persistent lameness or stiffness.