One morning when Chris Vecchiolla was enjoying a cup of coffee and casually petting his dog Jula’s head, he felt something out of the ordinary – a small bump. Assuming it was from a tick bite, Chris initially didn’t think much of it. But when the bump later grew in size and his regular vet at VCA South Shore (Weymouth) Animal Hospital recommended treatment, Chris was relieved to know that all of the care Jula would need – including electrochemotherapy – could take place in the same, familiar hospital.

The Vecchiolla family describe Jula as a friendly, mellow Labrador retriever, who is generally unfazed by most things.

“You can do anything around her. You can vacuum her, and she doesn't care,” jokes Chris’ daughter Dominique.

“No amount of poking, tweaking, spinning around on the floor on her belly – nothing bothers her,” adds Chris.

It's unsurprising then, that the bump Chris found on Jula’s head didn’t seem to bother her either. However, since the bump increased in size over time, Chris decided to have his regular veterinarian at VCA South Shore, Angela Girello, DVM, take a look at it. She performed a needle biopsy which revealed that the tumor contained precancerous cells called mast cells. 

Dr. Girello recommended surgery to remove the tumor and follow up care with a veterinary oncologist. Since VCA South Shore offers primary and specialty care, Jula was able to get all of the expert care she needed under one roof. 

Targeted Treatment with Less Side Effects

The next step for Jula after surgery was follow-up care with a veterinary oncologist at VCA South Shore, Richard Segaloff, DVM.

“For Jula, the surgeon was able to get what's called a complete, but narrow margin. So, my job is to maximize the chances of this being curative or providing long-term control,” explains Dr. Segaloff. “After talking about the different options, we decided to go forward with a treatment called electrochemotherapy.”

Electrochemotherapy is an approach used to get chemotherapy into cancer cells. During treatment, chemotherapy is injected into the tumor or bloodstream while the patient is under anesthesia. Then a special probe is used to send an electric pulse to the tumor, which helps break down cells’ resistance to chemotherapy.

“Chemotherapy molecules are big, awkward, and bulky. And a lot of times, they're not as effective because we can't get it into the cells that we're concerned about,” explains Alex Campbell, a veterinary technician for oncology and radiology. “This procedure, because of the electricity, depolarizes the cell walls, which then open up and the big, bulky chemo molecules can get into the cells. And then, a few minutes later, the cells figure it out and repolarize. And now, those chemo molecules are trapped inside the cell where they can do their magic.”

This more precise, targeted approach is ideal for “cleaning up” microscopic disease following surgery. It requires fewer visits and has less side effects than the alternative, which is typically radiation. Jula needed just one session to treat the area where her tumor was removed and was able to go home the same day.

“I think that it's really helpful to have this alternative to radiation when it’s suitable, because for a lot of people going in for daily treatments, Monday through Friday, isn't feasible from a practical standpoint,” explains Dr. Segaloff. “Having something that’s potentially just as effective, but with less time commitment and less fewer treatments, makes a big difference for a lot of people.”

Jula’s family reports that she is doing well and will continue to receive follow up care at VCA South Shore. According to Dr. Segaloff, her prognosis is positive.

“I'm encouraged,” he says. “I'm very hopeful.”

Chris says his family – and Jula – have been very pleased with her care at VCA South Shore. 

“It's outstanding. I come in here and I know that the system is designed with the best intentions for the dog, to make them well,” says Chris. “To the staff – thank you, and don't do anything differently.”

World-Class Medicine, Hometown Care

Many serious diseases and conditions are now possible to treat, which results in pets living their best lives, longer. VCA is committed to providing clients like you, and your pet, an experience that gets to the heart of the health matter and provides the best possible outcome. 

We invite you to visit the website of your closest specialty hospital. You can read about the specialists and teams of people who are always there for you and your pet should the need arise.

““I think that it's really helpful to have [an] alternative to radiation when it’s suitable...” explains Dr. Segaloff. “Having something that’s potentially just as effective, but with less time commitment and less fewer treatments, makes a big difference for a lot of people.”