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

What Is Over-Treatment of Dog Cancer?

Updated: February 5th, 2019

Decision-making when faced with a dog cancer diagnosis can be tough.  Treatment outcome, age, cost, and side effects all can weigh heavily on the mind of a dog lover.

During the first decision-making period, so much has to be weighed.  The difficult part in this process is that nothing seems to be for sure.  Objective data may be hard to come by, and easy choices are elusive.

Many people can feel a bit overwhelmed.

One of the aspects of cancer medicine, whether in conventional oncology or “alternative” approaches, is the point at which we are over-treating.  In other words, the treatment’s benefit is outweighed by its drawbacks.  The Big Three  (Surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiation) have drawbacks from many people’s perspectives.

To traditional oncology’s credit, there many patients do well, achieve longer lives, and are happier for a more prolonged period. However, there can be a difference between what is written in a veterinary textbook and what the real world demands.

Suppose a diagnosis of a nasal fibrosarcoma is made.  The tumor is located quite close to the tip of the nose. Perhaps this dog is a year old 17  Shar Pei whose kidneys are a little diseased.  If one were to widen back and look at the traditional recommended treatment (radiation with debulking surgery), it might not make a lot of sense.

Radiation requires multiple rounds of general anesthesia.  The kidneys may not be able to tolerate its effects.  The dog has already surpassed her life expectancy.  The surgery will necessitate major pain management, and we cannot use anti-inflammatory pain meds due to the kidneys. Even with all of this, there is a significant possibility the tumor will regrow soon.

In this case, most aware vets and dog lovers would realize the traditional treatment should actually be called over-treatment.  Most would agree that the direction the scale tips would not support textbook treatments.

A huge piece in this equation is the viewpoint of the person in charge: you!  Your role is deciding the treatment plan is dictated by what type of philosophy you have in treating your dog.

If you would like more information on treatment decision-making for your dog, it can be found in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

It is really important to take just a few minutes and define where you stand, at this moment.  A person who will accept most side effects (toxicities, pain, etc)  in exchange for treatment benefits is not the same as one who will not. Note that you should be aware of what benefits you can expect from a given treatment, and the risks of side effects too.

Where do you stand?  Are you willing to accept most side effects? Are you only willing to accept some in exchange for less treatment pay-off?  Do you want to make sure that above all, nothing is done that will adversely affect your dog (palliative measures only)?

So we not only have to take into account age, life expectancy, concurrent disease, and financial feasibility.  What determines over-treatment is really dependent on what your viewpoint is. Since we are all different people, what constitutes over-treatment can vary.

We realize that other options are needed in veterinary cancer care. We are furiously trying to develop strategies that will increase life quality for dogs in need.  Stay tuned!


Dr. D

Leave a Comment

  1. codyboy on January 22, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    timer was still running . Is this the ETHIC? NIKKI09

  2. codyboy on January 22, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    when a dog like a human being has been diagnosed with terminal cancer’ why is the vet insists that you leave your diog in his clinic ; why could i not take him to OUR home .
    not to mention thar te VET TIMER was still on —– NIKKI

  3. codyboy on January 22, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    hi my dog died of a massive cancerous tumor at the age of 15 ;had climbed MT Talm with me ;las Trampas trails and made it to the summit of mount Diablo CA only
    3 months before he started showing ;On his last Sunday we ended up at an emergengy clinic WaS GIVEN X_- RAYS ; BLOOD TRANSFUSION
    ANTIOBIOTICS; THE BEST TREATMENT and the nice vetenerian took me apart to give the news i already felt in my gut ,I SPent his last hours with him on a blanket in a private room massaging his ailing body ; my best friend,I could see LIFE in his eyes .Shall i had put him to sleep a week before did the vet overcharged me 2100 dollar bill included ashes in a beautiful wood box. SAD ,miss my best friend .

    • Dr. Dressler on January 22, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      Dear Codyboy,
      I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds like you did indeed have the dearest friend someone could ever hope for.
      Thinking of you
      Dr D

  4. reyla graber on September 20, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    Have you published a physical book? I
    want to buy it. But please make it easy on me. Just send it to me and charge me.
    My phone # is 510-865-6645.
    My address is 178 Basinside Way, Alameda, Ca. 94502.
    My almost 16 yr old Shiatsu/cocker has a mast tumor(large) I believe. He’s going for a biosy next week. His blood panel indicates very good health.
    At his age I would not inflict the 3 major treatments. Am willing to change diet etc.
    If chemo indicated with no side effects, might be willing to try.Do you have any suggestions? thank you very much– and for all the work you do.
    Sincerely, Reyla Graber

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