Very few people overall will opt for chemotherapy for their dogs with cancer.
This is interesting, because in human medicine it is widespread.
It would seem that fear of life quality loss, expense, side effects, and lack of cure in true malignancy are the main deterrents.
However, there are some reasons why some do opt for chemo in treating their four legged family members.
Some cancers actually respond pretty well. By response, I mean that the signs of the cancers go away and the dog, for all intents, is normal again.
Although this is temporary, in some cases the remission can be very long, even years in the best cases. Granted, these long remissions usually arise when dog guardians combine the chemo with other steps in full spectrum care.
One of the cancers that really responds well is lymphosarcoma. Over 80% of lympho cases will get what is called a first remission, meaning the cancer signs and symptoms disappears for a period before needing a second round.
Many dogs handle the chemo well. The number of dogs that are able to deal with the toxic effects of these drugs does indeed go up if certain steps are taken. These are discussed at length in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.
The best way to cure a true malignancy is to remove it with surgery. However, not all cancers can be removed.
We call these cancers “non-resectable”. A non-resectable cancer takes several forms. Most of these occur in masses (tumors) that require injuring vital structures to be removed successfully.
Other times, a cancer cannot be removed because it is found in the circulation (cancer cells flowing around the body). Lymphosarcoma or leukemias occur here. Also, cancers that have spread into the circulation from a growth fit in this class.
There are some tumors that spread into the surrounding areas in the neighborhood of the tumor. One cannot see the spread with the naked eye. However, when the surgery takes place, cancer cells are left in the surrounding neighborhood. Many of these cannot be removed and chemotherapy is one option.
Cancers that spread into the surrounding neighborhood of a growth are called “locally invasive”. Some include fibrosarcomas, squamous cell carcinomas, some hemangiosarcomas, and more.
Finally, if a tumor arises in one location and then shows up on another location (metastasis), chemotherapy is often considered.
The most important thing to remember is to arm yourself with the facts. Find out the success rates of the chemo, how many respond, for how long, what is involved, the cost, rough incidences of side effects, and what you can do to decrease toxicities.
All my best,
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.