Medical and Radiation Oncology Services for Pet Cancer Treatment

Sep 01, 2020

Medical and Radiation Oncology Services for Pet Cancer Treatment

Receiving news that your beloved pet has cancer is devastating, and you naturally want the best medical care available for the journey ahead. Fortunately, Upstate Vet’s oncology department is led by board-certified veterinary oncologists who are experts at treating cancer in pets. Advancements in veterinary oncology allow us to treat pets with cancer with many of the same therapies used in human cancer treatment, and many benefit from medical oncology, radiation therapy, or a combination. If your family veterinarian has diagnosed cancer in your pet, rest assured that we offer the most advanced therapies that will give them the best chance of survival.


What is medical oncology in pets?

Medical oncology involves the comprehensive diagnosis and management of pets with cancer using many different modalities, including:

  • Chemotherapyuses medications that kill or slow the growth of cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy — involves stimulating the immune system to kill cancer cells, such as  with cancer vaccines
  • Targeted therapy — uses medications that kill cancer cells in ways that differ from chemotherapy 
  • Antiangiogenic therapy — attacks a cancer’s blood supply instead of directly targeting the cancer cells
  • Pain management strategies — various medications and therapies may be used to combat the pain caused by some cancers, such as those that destroy bone

Chemotherapy, which uses many of the same medications as human cancer treatments, is the most common type of medical oncology. Most cancer treatment plans include some form of chemotherapy, and the medications chosen for your pet will depend on their cancer type and severity.

What is radiation therapy in pets?

Radiation therapy involves the use of a focused beam of intense energy that penetrates tissue to kill targeted cancer cells. Radiation destroys cancer cells’ DNA, which interferes with their ability to replicate, and they die. The body then eliminates the dead cells. 

How is chemotherapy administered to pets?

Chemotherapy medications are often administered intravenously (IV) or orally. IV chemotherapy medications may be used to reach immediate high blood levels, to aggressively target your pet’s cancer. If your pet is prescribed IV chemotherapy, our oncology team will administer the medications during an office visit. We often prescribe oral medications concurrently, or after IV chemotherapy has ended, that you can administer at home.  

How is radiation therapy administered to pets?Chemo for Dogs

Radiation therapy is administered to pets using a linear accelerator, which targets cancer cells with a precisely focused radiation beam, with minimal damage to surrounding tissue. Upstate Vet uses a Varian Halcyon linear accelerator, the most cutting-edge unit available for human and veterinary oncology, which is capable not only of intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), but can also perform stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT). SRT involves treating tumors with hundreds of tiny radiation fields to submillimeter precision. With this accurate and precise treatment, our veterinary radiation oncologists can deliver radiation therapy with fewer doses and side effects, making treatment possible for previously untreatable cancers. The number of treatments prescribed for your pet will depend on your treatment goals, and your pet’s cancer type, location, and stage. 

What pet cancer types are treated with chemotherapy?

Cancer treatment plans often incorporate several therapies, and most include some form of chemotherapy. The medications spread through your pet’s body via their bloodstream, treating the whole system, instead of targeting only a specific area. Chemotherapy is useful for cancer treatment in the following situations:

  • We know your pet’s cancer has metastasized (i.e., spread) from the primary site to another place in the body
  • Your pet’s cancer type has a high likelihood of metastasis
  • Your pet has other health problems that make them a poor surgery or radiation candidate  
  • Your pet’s cancer is disseminated throughout their body, rather than growing as a single mass  


What pet cancer types are treated with radiation therapy?

In contrast to chemotherapy, radiation is used to precisely target cancer that is confined to a tumor. Various diagnostic tools, such as digital photography, X-rays, and computed tomography (CT) scans, are used to locate the tumor’s exact location, and sophisticated computer programming is used to generate a 3D plan that targets the tumor with the focused radiation beam. We treat a variety of cancerous tumors using radiation, including:

  • Anal gland carcinomas
  • Brain and spinal cord tumors
  • Melanomas
  • Nasal tumors
  • Soft tissue sarcomas
  • Transitional cell carcinomas
  • Thyroid carcinoma
  • Lung tumors
  • Liver tumors

Radiation therapy may also be used to shrink a tumor before surgical excision, treat a tumor that cannot be surgically removed, target remaining cells in a mass that was only partially excised, and as part of a palliative care plan to relieve pain in patients who have an incurable cancer type.


What side effects are commonly seen in pets who receive chemotherapy?

Unlike human chemotherapy, veterinary chemotherapy does not cause debilitating side effects. We believe that cancer treatment should never be worse than the disease itself, and many patients we treat have no idea they are sick. Pets do not lose their fur, or experience intractable nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea during chemotherapy treatments. Pets who do experience side effects can typically be controlled with medications, or we can choose another treatment protocol.

What side effects are commonly seen in pets who receive radiation therapy?

Side effects will vary, depending on your pet’s tumor extent and location. Most pets experience few, if any, side effects from radiation therapy. The most likely is redness, similar to a sunburn, of the skin overlying the treatment area. The affected skin may become moist, and develop a scab that falls off a few weeks after treatment ends. We will send home oral and topical medications as needed to keep your pet as comfortable as possible throughout the entire process.  

If your pet has received a cancer diagnosis, our oncology team will partner with you, and walk alongside you every step of the journey. Contact us to discuss treatment options that will give your pet the longest, best-quality life possible.

Veterinary Professionals