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Radiation therapy is a local treatment option for many types of cancer. It plays a crucial role in the treatment of over 50% of human cancer patients. We are extremely fortunate to be able to provide this high level of care to our patients at VCA SouthPaws Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Center.

For our purposes, the term radiation simply implies the transmission of packets or photons of energy through the air and into the body, much like x-rays. These photons cannot be seen or felt, nor are they radioactive. The photons pass through the body causing damage to the genetic material inside the cells being treated. This damage can lead to cell death within hours to weeks after the treatment is given.

Radiation therapy is administered in multiple treatments known as fractions. Each treatment is a 'fraction' of the total dose prescribed for a particular patient. Fractionation reduces the severity of side effects to normal cells, enhances the killing effect on cancer cells, and allows a higher total dose to be given. The dose prescription and fractionation protocol are not arbitrary. They are based on sound radiobiological principles and must be strictly adhered to in order to achieve the goals of therapy. This includes making sure your pet does not miss any treatments and completes the scheduled number of fractions.

Specifically the number of fractions will vary from 1 to 25 depending on the cancer, area being treated and treatment related goals. For each fraction patients will need to be placed under general anesthesia as they must remain motionless for correct tumor targeting. However the duration of anesthesia is only several minutes and because the act of radiation is painless, long acting pain medication is not required.

Radiation treatment protocols can be divided into two broad categories, definitive and palliative. The goal of definitive radiation is to deliver as much radiation as safely possible to achieve a maximum tumor cell kill. Palliative radiation, on the other hand is a much more conservative approach to radiation therapy where the goal is not necessarily to kill tumors cells but rather improve a pets quality of life. Depending on the location of the tumor and treatment goals, side effects from radiation therapy can occur. In general they are limited to the area that is being treated and range from very minimal to severe. Your veterinarian can treat your pet for side effects that may occur.

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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:

  • Diagnostic medical services to evaluate, stage and confirm cancer diagnoses including on-site, same day cytologic evaluation, digital radiography, CT scan, ultrasound, and full laboratory services
  • Medical management including comfort care, combination and single agent chemotherapy, antiangiogenic and metronomic therapy, immunotherapy, nutritional counseling, innovative and novel therapeutics
  • Clinical trials for cancer patients
  • Linear Accelerator for external beam radiation therapy enabling us to provide both photon and electron radiation therapy for deep or superficial cancer therapy.
  • Palliative radiation therapy
  • I-131 for safe and effective cures for hyperthyroidism in cats

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:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Novel therapeutics/targeted therapies
  • Metronomic therapy

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€┬Ł 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.

Our Oncology Services

Blood Chemistry Analyzer
Bone Marrow Aspirate
Cancer Staging

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