Of course, we all hope our pet never gets cancer. But the more time you get with your pet, the more likely you’ll be making decisions about cancer care. If your pet ever faces a cancer diagnosis, this is what your veterinary oncologist wishes you knew.
It’s not hopeless!
“Seventy percent of localized solid tumors are cured with surgery alone,” says Dr. Arathi Vinayak, a surgical cancer specialist at VCA West Coast Specialty and Emergency Animal Hospital in Fountain Valley, Calif. “It’s so rewarding that we can cure that many patients with a single procedure. Of course, some cases are tougher, and we need to use more therapies. But these good outcomes are so satisfying.”
Cancer care keeps getting better
The field of surgical oncology has come a long way. Veterinary cancer specialists can successfully operate on challenging cases today that they used to believe were inoperable. “We perform surgery now completely differently than we did 10 or 15 years ago,” says Dr. Vinayak. “We’ve learned so much! And that means we can help more pets.”
We’re doing the best we can for you and your pet—and this is a tough job
While it’s rewarding to help pets who get cancer, it’s also tough. Veterinarians in this field see older pets with serious conditions and deliver difficult news to worried clients all day. “I know the clients I see are sad and often frustrated. They wish they didn’t have to face this situation and make these difficult choices about their pet’s care,” says Dr. Vinayak. “Still, it’s really hard when they take out that frustration on the doctors and their staff who are doing their best to help.”
“It’s so great when we get a case where we can give the pet owner hope. But there are difficult cases, too. We don’t want to make you sad. We don’t want to make you cry. But we can only give you the options that exist,” she says. “Please remember that we’re on your side always.”
“When you decide to consult a cancer specialist, you’re not committing to a particular approach. You’re opening up a conversation that will help give you more information so you can decide what you think is best for you and for your pet, says Dr. Vinayak. ’What is your goal for your pet?’ is the first question I ask because, with every case, we’re working toward that goal that you give us. We want to do the very best we can for you and your pet.”A little more information before your oncology consultation can help
Of course, learning your pet has cancer is upsetting. And when we get upset, we can’t process information as well. So it’s likely that you won’t remember everything your primary care veterinarian told you at the original appointment. That’s normal!
It’s a great idea to regroup, as soon as you’re able, and get a bit more information before your appointment with the pet cancer specialist, so you can make the most of the consultation and feel confident that you’re making the best possible decision for your situation. Here are some great questions to ask your family veterinarian:
Can you tell me a bit more about my pet’s diagnosis?
What should I prepare for the specialist?
What questions should I ask?
Why are you referring me to this particular specialist?
Your family veterinarian chooses a specialist for a number of reasons, including the type of cancer care they provide, their area of expertise, and their relationship and previous experience working with the specialist. There are three types of cancer doctors: Surgical oncologists who specialize in removal of cancer, medical oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments for cancer, and radiation oncologists who specialize in the delivery of radiation beams to shrink the tumor. Knowing the tumor type allows your veterinarian to choose a cancer specialist who is best for the treatment of that particular tumor. Knowing why they chose this cancer care provider helps you understand what your family doctor is thinking about your pet’s options for care.
We are always working toward your goals
For most tumors we have different options for treatment, depending on your needs and what you want to do for your pet. So it’s important to think about what’s most important to you. Is it quality of life? More time with your pet? A cure if possible? Are there medical choices that you know you’re open to, or know you’re not open to? The answers to these questions help you sort through the options the pet cancer specialist offers you and decide on a path.
“When you decide to consult a cancer specialist, you’re not committing to a particular approach. You’re opening up a conversation that will help give you more information so you can decide what you think is best for you and for your pet,” says Dr. Vinayak. “’What is your goal for your pet?’ is the first question I ask, because with every case, we’re working toward that goal that you give us. We want to do the very best we can for you and your pet.”
Dr. Arathi Vinayak is a veterinary surgical cancer specialist at VCA West Coast Specialty and Emergency Animal Hospital in Fountain Valley, Calif. A passionate researcher, she regularly partners with academic institutions to study options for more effectively treating cancer in pets—and she works to instill that same excitement about growing medical knowledge through research in the early-career doctors that work with her. She performs specialized cancer surgeries including surgical limb spares for bone cancer; thoracic and abdominal wall resection and reconstructions; complex intrathoracic and abdominal tumors; minimally invasive urethral, tracheal, colonic and esophageal stenting; and surgery for complex maxillofacial tumors. When she’s not performing surgery or developing research for publication, she enjoys spending time with her husband, her two active boys and her Siberian cat, “Kitten” and ragdoll named “Nettik.”