The problem with chemotherapy, at least traditional drugs, is that it does not always target just the cancer cells. What I mean by that is the chemo drug may not care if it shuts down a dividing body cell or a dividing cancer cell.
Chemotherapy drugs tend, with some exceptions, to go after cells that divide. True, cancer cells, by their nature, are continually dividing much faster than body cells. They have no normal end-of-life stage (apoptosis) leading to healthy cell replacement. So it would be seem logical to target dividing cells if one were to try to hit cancer cells but not body cells. This has been the traditional strategy.
Cyclophosphamide, Lomustine (CCNU), doxorubicin (Adriamycin), vincristine (Oncovin), prednisone, and more all are targeted in this way. There are many other ways that chemo drugs work and they have their own side effects, but these are very common.
However, the body does have normal (non-cancerous) cells that divide faster than other normal cells and are affected by chemo drugs. These fast dividers are located mostly in the lining of the stomach and the intestine, and in the bone marrow.
When dividing cells lining the stomach and intestine are injured, it causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, ulcerations, bleeding, and low energy levels. This is what accounts for some of the adverse chemo reactions.
If the cells in the bone marrow are suppressed, the number of cells that come from the bone marrow drop. These cells are the red and white blood cells, and the platelets. If those cells go down, we see anemia, risk of infection, bleeding tendencies, low energy levels, and loss of appetite.
For a comprehensive guide on how you can help your dog with cancer, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide
There are supplements that can be used that may help with these problems. These are covered in detail in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and I have posted on them as well.
I will be presenting on this topic (what you need to know about chemo and how to lessen reactions) in this Sunday’s webinar. It will be recorded if you are unable to listen live.
Beta glucans are found in several supplements. These supplements can help with the low white blood cell levels and low energy levels, as does Astralagus. Cimetidine and ginger can help with nausea and loss of appetite.
Please check with your veterinarian when making medical decisions for your loved dog.
Best to all,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.