What Is A Veterinary Oncologist?

A board certified veterinary oncologist is a veterinary specialist who has obtained advanced training in veterinary oncology, passed board certification examination in either medical or radiation therapy and has earned the right to be called a recognized specialist by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Both have specialized knowledge in the diagnosis of cancer, staging and treatment of cancer, however the focus of a radiation oncologist is in the use of radiation therapy, whereas the emphasis of the medical oncologist is in the use of chemotherapy and other non-radiation cancer treatment modalities. When your pet is faced with cancer, a veterinary oncologist will typically work in concert with your pet's general practitioner veterinarian in order to obtain the best possible medical outcome for your pet. A veterinary oncologist can help your pet by developing diagnostic and treatment plans that may include one or all of the following options:

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Vaccine or Immunotherapy
  • Bone Marrow Transplant

While your general practitioner 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 and can assist you in the decision making process, treatment and long term care of your pet.

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 care for his or her illness.

While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to simply consult with the veterinary oncologist about your pet's care, in other cases it is necessary to actually refer you and your pet to 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 veterinarian 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. Although the disease is serious, treatment decisions generally do not need to be made quickly. If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, you will either want to have your general practice veterinarian work in consultation with a veterinary oncologist, or refer you to one for your pet's treatment.

Common Cancers

Blood Cell Tumors

  • Lymphosarcoma (LSA)
  • Leukemia (ALL, CLL, AML, CML)
  • Multiple Myeloma

Endocrine Tumors

  • Thyroid Carinoma
  • Insulinoma

Gastrointestinal Tumors


Mammary Tumors

Skeletal Tumors

  • Osterosarcoma (OSA)
  • Chondrosarcoma (CSA)
  • Synovial Cell Sarcoma

Skin Tumors

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
  • Mast Cell Tumor (MCT)
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • Plasma Cell Tumor (PCT)

Soft Tissue Tumors/Sarcomas (STS)

  • Nerve Sheath Tumor (NST)
  • Fibrosarcoma (FSA)
  • Hemangiopericytoma (HPC)

Urogenital Tumors

  • Prostate Carcinoma
  • Bladder Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC)

Will My Regular Veterinarian Still Be Involved?

In most cases, your regular veterinarian will still supervise your pet's veterinary care and will work in tandem with the veterinary oncologist, veterinary radiation oncologist, and any other members of your pet's veterinary health care team.

Frequently Asked Questions

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.


Radiation Treatment



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.

Pet medication:

Repeated, long-term exposure to chemotherapy drugs can result in severe health problems. However, it is very unlikely that an individual occasionally administering chemotherapy pills or liquid to their pet would ever develop these problems, but precautions in handling medication should always be taken. Wear gloves when handling any medication, especially chemotherapy. Wash hands thoroughly when administration is complete. Women who are breast feeding, pregnant or trying to conceive, as well as children and immunosuppressed individuals should never handle chemotherapy drugs. NEVER split or crush the pills. For cats, pet pillers are an inexpensive, easy way to administer medications. Please ask your doctor or technician for a demonstration on how to administer medication to your pet if you are not sure. If your pet spits out the pills and they begin to 'melt' or break apart, wear gloves and use paper towels when picking up the medication. Wipe the floor with a diluted soap and water or dilute bleach solution and rinse with water. If possible flush the towels and medication down the toilet. If not possible place all materials into a sealed plastic bag and discard in an outdoor receptacle. Although rare, any vomitus occuring within 90 minutes following treatment should be handled as chemotherapy waste (see below). If you have any specific concerns please contact your veterinarian for further assistance.

Contact with pet and their eliminations:

Provided that a few safety steps are followed, humans and other household pets living with animals receiving chemotherapy are at a low health risk from their eliminations, just as in the case with humans. Even with direct exposure to their waste the risk of you becoming exposed to significant amounts of chemotherapy is very low. Therefore you and your pet's daily interactions do not have to be altered. In general the chemotherapy that your pet receives may be found in low levels in their urine or feces for up to 5 days after administration. Women who are breast feeding, pregnant or trying to conceive, as well as children and immunosuppressed individuals should never handle any animal waste, especially the waste of an animal receiving chemotherapy. Wear gloves when handling waste and wash your hands thoroughly when done. Specifically for cats, change the entire litter box once daily for the first 2 days after chemotherapy administration and be diligent about scooping waste throughout the entire time your cat receives chemotherapy (place waste in an outdoor receptacle). For dogs, encourage them to eliminate in low-traffic areas, away from play areas such as in the back corner of the yard and pick up their stool regularly. If your pet has an accident in the house, wear gloves when cleaning it up. Wipe up the waste then clean the area with a mild soap and water or dilute bleach solution followed by a water rinse. If possible flush the towels down the toilet. If not possible, place the materials in a plastic bag and deliver it to an outside trash receptacle. If you have any specific concerns about your pet's eliminations please contact you veterinarian for further assistance.

Advanced Cancer Care for the World's Most Important Pet: Yours

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