Surgical Oncology

How are veterinary surgical oncologists uniquely qualified and able to help my pet?

A veterinary surgical oncologist is a board-certified veterinary surgeon credentialed with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (DACVS) who has completed a surgery residency and passed the examinations and requirements to become a small animal surgeon. After the residency, additional training in the form of a fellowship in the field of cancer surgery must be completed. The additional fellowship training is not only a clinical program, but also involves courses in cancer biology, cancer genetics, radiation biology and cancer pathology. The fellowship program also has a research component focused on advancing the field of cancer treatment. Once the fellowship program has been completed, the surgeon is credentialed for the second time with “ACVS Fellow, Surgical Oncology.” With this title, a veterinary surgical oncologist makes a commitment to dedicate all or a major portion of their career to furthering the field of cancer treatment and research. 

What is surgical oncology?

Surgical oncology is the removal of cancerous tissue via surgery. Seventy percent of solid tumors are cured by advanced surgery techniques without need for additional therapy. At VCA West Coast, cancer surgery is done by a board certified veterinary surgical oncologist, who is one of only about 50 veterinary surgical oncologists in the entire world. We are proud to bring this exceptional level of care to our patients.

What types of cancer are treated with surgical oncology?

Our veterinary surgical oncologist works with our medical and radiation oncologists to develop the best treatment plan for each patient. At VCA West Coast, we offer surgical management of numerous tumor types, including, but not limited to:

  • Various skin tumors (benign and malignant)
  • Anal sac tumors and related lymph node removal
  • Heart and lung tumors
  • Cancerous lymph nodes
  • Bone, muscle, and nerve/nerve root tumors
  • Thyroid and parathyroid tumors
  • Body wall reconstructions and rib resections
  • Cancers of the head and neck, including complex mouth surgeries
  • Tumors of the bladder, liver, intestine, pancreas, spleen, adrenal gland and more

Can my elderly pet with other concurrent problems handle cancer surgery and anesthesia?

Age is fortunately not a disease. The average age of a surgical oncology patient is between 10 and 16 years. We find that our older patients do just as well as younger patients under anesthesia and can often be cured with surgery alone for localized tumors. As pets age, they often have concurrent diseases which we take into consideration when coming up with the anesthesia plan as well as the treatment plan.

What if I am not sure whether I want to pursue surgery for my pet. Should I still see a surgical oncologist?

A veterinary surgical oncologist is educated in all options for treating a tumor. Thus, a surgical oncology consultation will provide you with ALL options for treatment, depending on your goal for your pet. If you’re unsure, the best way to make a decision is by getting all the information you need to make an educated choice. A consultation appointment with a veterinary surgical oncologist is an opportunity for you to get a complete understanding of your pet’s cancer diagnosis and prognosis (outcome), learn which diagnostic tests are recommended and hear about all of the treatment options available. Then you’ll be able to make a choice that’s right for you, your family and your pet. 

If you elect to pursue surgery, the staff will meet with you to review the written estimate, schedule the procedure and discuss what to expect the day of surgery.

What will the prognosis for my pet be with surgery?

The prognosis for your pet is dependent on the type of tumor, grade of the tumor (how aggressive the tumor is seen to be on the biopsy test), whether the cancer has spread anywhere (stage of the disease) and the treatment option you decide to proceed with. Your surgical oncologist will recommend the necessary diagnostics to determine the stage of the disease (extent of spread, if any) and provide you with expected survival times from the veterinary literature if surgery is elected.  

Why is it important to have advanced imaging (CT scans) performed prior to surgery?

Detailed imaging scans with CT will help with determining if there are any early signs of spread in the chest or abdomen and provide information needed to develop a surgical plan. Oftentimes, tumors are excised with wide margins, meaning that the tumor and a certain amount of normal tissue around and behind the tumor will be removed. This ensures that all of the cancer has been removed, thus minimizing the chance of local recurrence and distant spread. CT allows the most accurate development of a surgical plan due to greater visualization of the mass and surrounding tissue. It also allows us to assess radiation options. Most of the time, this is done on the same day as the consultation under either heavy sedation or light general anesthesia.