Pet Talk: Combatting Pet Cancer

Cancer is a scary subject, especially when a loved one has been diagnosed. Because the first reactions and decisions can make a huge impact on treatment options and outcomes, it is important to be prepared and know what questions to ask first.

Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, uses his years of oncology experience to advise pet owners on the early steps of cancer detection and treatment.

In order to get an early diagnosis, a pet with an unusual mass should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Pet owners should then be willing to do whatever is needed to ensure that a full diagnosis is made.

“Early detection and intervention can be the difference between a cure and a poor outcome, as well as the difference between a short, non-complex procedure or an expensive, extensive treatment protocol,” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

Once the mass is examined, the veterinarian will need to run tests to determine if it is cancerous and, if so, what stage of cancer is present. With fine-needle aspiration, a cheap but very effective test, a hollow needle removes cells from the mass that are then viewed under a microscope to see if the tumor is malignant or benign.

If the mass is determined to be cancerous, the pet owner can begin discussing treatment options with the veterinarian.

“Get as much information as you need to make an informed decision,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “The most important aspect of all is finding a balance between being aggressive with treatment to increase the chances of a good outcome and maintaining a good quality of life.

“(At the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital) We have extensive discussions with owners about treatment options and costs that may be associated with those options,” he said.

While small, low-grade tumors may be cured with a minor, low-cost surgery, other tumors may need more extensive treatment plans. Some pets will need a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery to treat cancer, and the cost can build quickly.

Wustefeld-Janssens recommends that pet owners look into pet insurance or ask about payment plans to make the cost of cancer treatment more manageable.

One of the most important things to remember after a cancer diagnosis is to not lose hope.

“Our goal is always maintenance of a good quality of life so there may be little change to the daily routine, though some pets will be on chronic medication or need minor changes to exercise (regimens),” Wustefeld-Janssens said.

“As a group, we veterinarians are committed to supporting families and their pets through a diagnosis and treatment,” he said. “We have options and there is always something we can do.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.