Welcome to the Oncology Department at VCA SouthPaws Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Center.
There are fewer than 300 board certified veterinary oncologists in the entire world, and VCA SouthPaws has 3 of them. As a result, with all aspects of cancer therapy available at VCA SouthPaws, multi-disciplinary patient management to improve quality of life is our goal.
Our Oncology Department offers:
What Is A Veterinary Oncologist?
A board certified veterinary oncologist is a veterinary internal medicine specialist who has additional training in veterinary oncology. A veterinary oncologist has specialized knowledge in the diagnosis of cancer, the staging of tumors, the development of treatment plans, and the administration of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, nutritional therapy, novel therapeutics, and multimodality therapy. When your pet is faced with cancer, a veterinary oncologist will work in concert with your pet's general practitioner in order to obtain the best possible medical outcome for your pet. A veterinary oncologist can help your pet by developing treatment plans that incorporate one or all of the following options:
While your regular veterinarian can diagnose and treat many health problems, certain diseases like cancer require the care of a doctor who has had specialized, intensive training in veterinary oncology.
Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Oncologist?
Just as in humans, a pet with cancer typically needs the help of an oncologist to help diagnose and treat the disease. Veterinary oncologists determine the most appropriate course of treatment and coordinate the treatment program for pets with cancer. They also frequently serve as consultants to veterinarians in private practice to ensure that their patients receive the best treatment possible for their cancer. You can be assured that a veterinarian who refers you and your pet to a veterinary oncologist is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of medical care for his or her illness.
While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to consult with the veterinary oncologist about your pet's care, in other cases it is necessary for you and your pet to see the veterinary oncologist for more advanced diagnostics and treatment. Board certified veterinary internists/oncologists may also have access to specialized diagnostic or treatment tools that a general practitioner may not have.
My Pet Has Cancer. Now What?
Cancer does appear to be becoming more common in pets, most likely because they are simply living longer. The most important point to realize about this dreaded disease, however, is that just as in people, many forms of the disease can be easily treated, managed, and even cured. Early detection and specialized care are leading to increased survival and cure rates in almost all the types of cancers that afflict pets. From surgery to chemotherapy to radiation therapy, veterinary cancer specialists can offer your pet the very latest diagnostic and treatment options and the best chance of survival. With optimal treatment, cancer in many cases simply becomes another manageable chronic disease.
If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, it is important not to become overwhelmed. Ask your veterinarian to write down the most important points for you to review later. If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, however, you will either want to have your veterinarian work in consultation with a veterinary oncologist, or be referred to one of these specialists quickly. . VCA SouthPaws Oncologists are available five days a week to see you and your pet directly. We are also on call to our CritiCare department so that pets whose cancer is an emergency can receive treatment afterhours, on weekends or holidays.
Cancer Therapy in 2011 and beyond
For many years, our best hope for dogs and cats with cancer was to be able to remove it surgically. That left all those patients with cancers that spread to other parts of the body (or which involved multiple parts of the body from the outset) without a good long term treatment option. In the 1990s and 2000s, we achieved great steps in being able to use chemotherapy in helping this group of patients with metastatic or systemic cancer to live years with their disease, while enjoying excellent quality of life. We learned to use radiation therapy to manage localized cancers that could not be treated surgically. Dogs with high grade lymphoma moved from only living less than few months to living well for 1.5-2 years. Dogs with oral squamous cell carcinoma can achieve two year tumor-free survival routinely following radiation therapy.
In this decade, we're exploring more options for treating cancer patients who cannot be cured surgically, with drugs and other modalities designed to slow cancer progression and metastases €“ sometimes in place of traditional chemotherapy, and sometimes in addition to traditional therapies. These new modalities include metronomic therapy (low dose oral chemo given at home) as well as growth inhibitor therapies like the tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Metronomic therapy, which acts by inhibiting blood vessels from feeding the cancer) has prevented many incompletely excised soft tissue sarcomas from recurring without requiring radical surgery like amputations. TK inhibitors are being used to prevent recurrence in dogs treated with surgery and chemotherapy for cutaneous mastocytosis (turning a prognosis of <10 months into two years or more). Immunotherapy has also achieved great success in the adjuvant therapy of canine melanoma following adequate surgery or radiation therapy €“ changing average survival times from under 6 months to over 18 months. Bone hardening drugs like pamidronate are used to prevent fracture and pain associated with a tumor's invasion of bone, as well as to slow bone cancer growth and progression. While many of these therapies are not the traditional €œchemo€ approach, most are still only safe when frequent follow up examinations and labwork are monitored to ensure the best outcome.
More and more, when we cannot hope for a cure, we are being able to change the rapid death sentence that was a cancer diagnosis, into a manageable chronic disease, while keeping dogs and cats happy and symptom-free at home. Even when directed cancer therapies are not possible for a particular pet, comfort care at home may result in a better quality of life with cancer. As multiple treatment options exist for each of the hundreds of different kinds of cancer which dogs and cats develop, it is essential for pet owners to consult with a veterinary oncologist to get the most up-to-date options for their pet's care.
Will My Regular Veterinarian Still Be Involved?
Every time your pet is seen at VCA SouthPaws, a complete report will be forwarded to your veterinarian so that she/he will know what was discussed, what treatments were provided, and how we need her/his assistance in following up on your pet's care.
Did You Know?
Dogs and cats have higher age adjusted incidence rates for many kinds of cancers than do humans. For example, dogs are 35 times more likely to get skin cancer than are humans. They suffer from 8 times the amount of bone cancer and 4 times the amount of breast cancer. However, humans are more likely to get lung and stomach cancers than pets.
Just as in people, there is no proven way to keep your pet from getting cancer. You can, however, take steps to minimize the risks. Avoid any known predisposing causes, such as not spaying or neutering pets, or leaving pets exposed to sunlight. Also make sure your pet has regularly scheduled checkups and follow your veterinarian's advice regarding any necessary screening tests.
Any veterinarian who wants to specialize in oncology must first be certified as an internal medicine specialist. Veterinarians who want to become board certified in internal medicine must seek additional, intensive training to become a specialist and earn this prestigious credentialing. Specialty status is granted by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM). A veterinarian who has received this specialty status will list the initials, 'DACVIM,' after his or her DVM degree. Or, the veterinarian may indicate that he or she is a 'Diplomate' of the ACVIM. The word 'Diplomate' typically means the specialist has achieved the following:
Obtained a traditional 8 year veterinary degree (four years of college plus four years of veterinary school).
Completed an additional three to six years of advanced training, including a residency at a veterinary teaching hospital where the veterinarian will have trained with some of the best experts in the field and obtained hands on experience.
Completed the credentialing application process established by the ACVIM
Passed a rigorous general examination.
Once a veterinarian is board certified in internal medicine, he or she may seek additional specialty status in veterinary oncology. Internal medicine specialists must obtain additional training in this area and sit for a second, even more intensive examination. These doctors will list their credentials after their boarded status, for example, as 'DAVCIM (Oncology).'
When your pet needs the care of a veterinary internal medicine specialist/veterinary oncologist, years of intensive training and additional education will be focused on helping him or her to recover from the disease and/or enjoy the highest quality of life possible.
The goal of cancer therapy is to destroy abnormal cancer cells while sparing normal cells. An important difference in human vs. animal oncology is that the goal with humans, due to our extended life spans, is to cure the disease. In animals, the goal is more to extend the length of life while still maintaining its
quality. In many cases, a veterinary oncologist will combine some or all of the treatment options outlined below in order to provide the very best outcome for your pet.
Your veterinary oncologist will give you specific instructions regarding your pet's chemotherapy, but in general, you should be aware that pets typically handle chemotherapy regimens far better than people do. First, as cancer treatment for both humans and small animals has become more sophisticated, the side effects created by chemotherapy regimens have become less severe. Second, chemotherapy administration in animals is less aggressive than it is in humans, so animals typically do not become as sick from the side effects as do people.
Finally, veterinary oncologists have many options at their disposal to help keep your pet comfortable during treatment for his or her disease. From pain management options to special nutritional recommendations to medications that can help lessen the nausea associated with chemotherapy, be assured that veterinary oncologists can keep most pets surprisingly comfortable during treatment. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles to treating pets with cancer is that many owners imagine their pet's treatment will be more difficult than it really is.