One of the most shocking discoveries for some guardians starting their dog cancer journey is there seem to be few options.
These guardians go to the vet or oncologist, and many times return from the visit with a very heavy burden that seems to have little relief. And strangely, it happens to those who ask the most questions about how things will turn out for their loved dog.
There are a few points that are rarely brought up at the vet’s or oncologists that we should all look at. By “we”, I include myself as a practicing veterinarian and hospital owner. First, there is something called a skew. For those not very interested in math, sorry, but you will want to know this because it relates to your dog’s lifespan (longevity).
Oncologists use word called the median to talk about survival time. This is the point in time when half of the patients are still alive. But the problem is that it really is a very crummy number to look at (but its all we got, so bear with me…) So a median life expectancy is a “centralizing” measure, or getting close to or around a target to get a rough idea. An average is another centralizing measure. Here, the target we are interested in is, ” how long my dog will live with this cancer and treatment.”
But here’s why it’s crummy….and now we go back to the skews. Say the median life expectancy your oncologist talks about is 8 months with a given treatment. So half the dogs in the study were alive 8 months into it. Okay, but what if the data had a right skew? This means that of the dogs who lived longer than 8 months, survival time was all over the board. There were some that passed at 10 months, others at 15, others at 20. And of course in the spirit of full disclosure there is also a left skew, where the patients living less than 8 months had lifespans all over the place too.
Why are we talking statistics in a blog about dog cancer? Well, for one, to perhaps loosen the hold the question “how long, Doc?” has on how we feel. The estimates are often imprecise, and sometimes have nothing whatsoever to do with how things really turn out.
So that’s skews.
As usual, there is more to consider.
When a vet or oncologist gives an answer to “how long, Doc?”, all guardians should be on alert of an event that happens when you hear the information. The number of days, weeks, months or years in the answer will color how you go about dealing with your dog. And because these estimates are by their very nature very rough, this impact may actually be detrimental to the outcome.
Here’s what I mean. You hear the news, “8 months”. Maybe this throws you into a deep despair (as it would me). But now this despair interferes with your Guardianship, which I view as being a “vigilant protector”. You do not get the information you would otherwise since your brain is filled with chemicals that interfere with motivation and memory. And guess what….the outcome is influenced. Under these conditions you may not pay attention to diet, chemo, supplements, apoptogens, surgery, immune support, radiation, brain chemistry modification, and all the other tools discussed in the Guide.
And your dog may actually have two factors working against her: the cancer and the effect of words spoken in the exam room.
She might have been one that would have lived two or three times the median life expectancy!
(Note that the first part of the Guide is geared towards helping guardians deal with this stuff so they can be excellent vigilant protectors for their four legged family members.)
Finally, take note… most of the papers look at one of more of the conventional cancer tools: surgery, chemo or radiation. But we remember that old saying, “To a carpenter with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” We now have many tools in the wonderful world of Full Spectrum Care. And these have effects that add up, beyond chemo, surgery and radiation.
For example, does feeding a dog Big Macs for every meal create disease eventually? Of course. So….does diet impact disease? Can diet be used as a tool to help? This is a simple example, but sadly rather large topics like diet are often ignored in conventional veterinary care. Facts like these were another reason the Guide was written.
So, what’s the take home message? It comes down to avoiding dogma (bad pun, sorry). Take the information you get and use it. Consider the median life expectancy. But at the same time, do not swallow a median life expectancy as if it is fact for your dog. Disregard it partially so you can embrace doing all you can.
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.