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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Do Numbers Matter?

Updated: January 7th, 2019

A lover of a dog with cancer needs to come up with an plan that makes sense. The first step in any plan is arming oneself with answers, or data that relates to the situation.

There are two basic areas that we need to focus on. The first is what can we do to maintain or improve life quality. The second is what can we do to improve lifespan.

Life quality can be looked at by breaking down, or defining, the joys in your dog’s life.

How many are there? Some joys include eating, drinking, physical exercise, social relationships with humans or non-human animals, satisfaction of normal bodily functions, the pleasure in overcoming manageable challenges, play activities and creative expressions of self, and having a healthy consciousness.

So there are eight big categories. Maybe you have more for your dog.

In gauging life quality, how many of these eight are gone? How many persist? In which direction does the scale tip? How do treatments interfere with each of these?

Go ahead- count them! How may are there? How many are not?  What is the bottom line?

An analysis using numbers can really help clarify where our dog’s happiness is at a given point in time.

What about the choice of whether to treat using a given technique (radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy)? Numbers really start to matter, because we are in the realm now of life extension, longevity, life quantity. And we are in the realm of life quality too, because treatments have side effects that can lessen happiness.

Oncologists use a figure called median survival time to talk about how long a patient has with a given cancer type at a given stage in progression. This just means, “how long does my dog have?”

What is your dog’s median survival time without treatment? A very central, important number. I gave the present median survival times for all the cancers that are published in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, since this is such a pivotal question.

Get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide for more helpful tools and information

What about efficacy of treatment? By how much is this median survival time expected to be increased, using a given type of treatment? This means, “how much more life do I get?”

You need to be armed with this information!

Now let’s widen back and look at the big lifespan picture. How long would a dog without cancer be expected to live? You can find average lifespans here. I talk more about lifespan determination in the Guide as well.

So if we have a dog who has already reached his or her average lifespan, not even considering the cancer, how aggressive do you want to be with treatment? Likely not that aggressive, unless your dog is particularly vital and vigorous.

One question could be, “why are we trying to extend life when if we are at the departure time anyway”?

If, on the other hand, you and your vet feel that your dog is particularly vital and vigorous, perhaps being more aggressive would make sense.

Speaking of aggressive treatments, what is the estimated rate of side effects that would be considered serious or life threatening (heart and kidney failure, or nervous system injury, bone fractures, severe pancreatitis, spontaneous bleeding, etc)?

How about those that are not life threatening but that affect life quality (lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhea, mild bladder inflammation)?

For more information to help your dog with cancer, get a copy of all 47 webinars!

Are you comfortable with those odds, those risks, of a given treatment?  You will be the one dealing with them more than your vet or oncologist!

How many minutes or hours in the day do you have to give to care for your dog? As a guardian, how much time can you devote to cancer diet preparation, supplement dosing, self-esteem building, social enhancement, trips to the vet, and so on?

Being honest and specific can help you make a plan that is right for you. 30 minutes two times a day? 5 hours a day? 10? What is the truth?

Put that time in your day planner!

Even if the numbers we are dealing with are approximate, this kind of thinking can be very helpful for dog lovers.

Being your dog’s primary health care advocate involves collecting information. Do the best you can in this area so you can rest assured that your decisions are the best they can be.

Numbers can be your friend.

Sending my best to all of you,
Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Kathleen Di Salvo on May 30, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Dear Dr. Dressler,

    I apologize if this is not the format to ask you a question but I am not having luck locating what is available to have contact.

    I have learned as of yesterday my Jack Russell, Abby has liposarcoma in her right foot below her so called wrist. It is between her toes and removal of middle toes would make her imbalanced and no guarantee they could get it all. I have had a 2nd opinion by the University of Wisconsin Veterninary Science School with an Oncologist and finalized the diagnosis after roundtabling with their pathologists.

    Originally, the diagnosis leaned toward liposarcoma with Abby’s vet and the biopsy was read by a different lab. UW wanted a definite diagnosis and consider it now at this time low-grade. My options, I am told are amputation as early as possible for full recovery. This is including her shoulder. She is otherwise healthy and 10 1/2 years old. There has been lymph node testing to rule out melanoma prior to the final diagnosis and a lung xray. Those are negative.

    Abby is a very athletic dog and I am told that radiation could be an option but a portion of the paw would need to be radiation free to keep the support of the foot. They would run the risk of not radiating all the cancerous tissue and destruction of the foot. Also, chemo does not affect this type of cancer.

    She does have 2 lipomas 1 on her right side by her chest and an area closer to her hind leg below her ribs on the other side. The apirations confirmed this.

    I am having a very hard time comprehending that her whole right leg and shoulder will be amputated in the next 2-3 weeks to have full recovery. At this point it is slow growing but told that if I wait another month they would need to have another chest xray to determine if it metastisized.

    I am interested in learning all I can about this cancer and so far I have learned that it is rare, for Abby it is in a difficult spot and if there is amputation now, she will live to be her normal age intended and die of something else.

    I am interested in obtaining thoughts on this and not finding how to have contact with you. I would be interested in alternative treatment and diet changes to insure the rest of her life be cancer free and if you think amputation is the only option. I am told dogs do well on 3 legs but the thought bothers me. I would be interested in downloading your book and need to understand if there is more than amputation available for recovery.

    I have read some of the comments and not finding any relating to my situation. Thank you in advance for any suggestions.

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