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Cancer survival in pets: Good news just keeps on coming

Posted Jan 08 2009 4:20pm

You think cancer’s so bad? OK, so maybe it is given the alternative of perfect health. But consider that cancer is eminently treatable. In fact, for cancer cases there’s a great deal veterinarians can do to prolong a perfectly comfortable life, sometimes well beyond all predictions so that pets can achieve normal lifespans.

The words cancer, neoplasia, tumor, oncology and malignancy may fill us all with dread—not to mention our reactions to the affiliated terms we might hear in the wake of a diagnosis. Indeed, “chemotherapy,” “radiation” and “exploratory surgery” sometimes sound worse than the “c” word to some pet owners.

That’s why so few of my clients elect to treat cancer through the most effective means. They hear “brain tumor” and through a blur of tears, assume their pet’s life is at an end. They see an X-ray of their pet’s abdominal mass and think that calling is quits is the inevitable choice.

Not so for an increasing number of our cancer patients. Though the choices each pet owner makes, regardless of direction, are personal and to be respected, pet owners must be given the information they need to make sound decisions. And, for my part, that means offering them a glimpse of success.

With that in mind, here are a few of my patients’ cancer treatment success stories, in brief:

Sophie Sue: My own sweet 12 year-old girl—perhaps the most easily loved dog on the planet for her calm demeanor and solicitous belly—has been living well with her brain tumor for almost eight months. The roughest patch, by far, was during the uncertain diagnostic process. Once the diagnosis itself was confirmed and the treatment initiated she bounced back immediately and has been 100% “normal” ever since. Here she is in front of the trusty CT machine that diagnosed her tumor:

Bailey Blue: This uncharacteristically even-tempered Shar-pei was diagnosed with invasive, intestinal adenocarcinoma (in several lymph nodes as well as her intestines) almost two years ago. Surgery to “clean it up” was only partially successful. A brief stint of chemo followed up with almost a year of prednisone resulted in an otherwise normal Bailey. When I saw her yesterday for a typical Shar-pei skin issue, she gave me a nuzzle…along with the idea for this post.

Chloe: A ten year-old, Siamese sweetie. Her brain tumor’s under control, now that several radiation treatments have proved successful. Some surgery is planned as well. This girl’s treatment may have long-term (read: normal lifespan) implications.

Grey Girl: An invasive mammary carcinoma afflicted this 12 year-old kitty. Her high-grade malignant tumor came with extensive surgical recommendations her owner declined. Instead, we kept her perfectly comfortable for another 16 months with two rounds of chemotherapy. Her owner was tremendously grateful for this time.

Roger: He’s a ten year-old black kitty with a ginormous mass of uncertain origin in his liver. For the last four months he’s been living on prednisone and Xango juice (the owner’s suggestion) and every time I see him he looks brighter and happier.

Gizmo: She’s another liver mass girl. This time it’s a mast cell tumor. No surgery for this one, though. And there’s no great chemo available yet, either, for this tumor type (though canine drug studies are in the works, including a trial at one of my nearby specialty facilities). Gizzie lives on Epogen, SAM-e, milk thistle, Bach flower extracts, prednisone, SQ fluids, and Iron, C and E supplements. Like Roger, she looks better every time I see her.

These are just a few of my patients. And not all have undergone the invasive kind of therapy you might expect of cancer treatment. Sophie enjoyed her treatments, even, what with all the extra attention and freedom to move about the specialist’s hospital with impunity.

No more doom and gloom this week. Just lots of great stories. Tell me yours.

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