Guidelines for Managing Cancer in Dogs and Cats
Given the ever-increasing incidence of cancer in our pets, it was a smart move for the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to recruit a team of veterinary oncologists to draft the first ever “Oncology Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.” Written this year, the material covers multiple facets of small animal oncology (cancer diagnosis and treatment) and makes recommendations that are consistent with a high standard of care. And, people with pets have a right to know about this high standard of care. I’m a big believer in veterinarians presenting all options, regardless of cost.
I’ve previously referenced AAHA’s vaccination, anesthesia, and preventive care guidelines. Such guidelines are crafted by teams of veterinary experts and the AAHA topics range from “Judicious Therapeutic Use of Antimicrobials,” to “Diabetes Management.” As is true for all of the AAHA Guidelines, those pertaining to oncology do not represent rules that veterinarians must follow. Rather, they are suggested standards of care.
Now, being the savvy consumer of veterinary medicine that you are, I encourage you to take advantage of these published guidelines. They are yours for the taking, and will allow you to feel more confident that your pet’s medical care is in capable hands.
As I read through these guidelines I was delighted to see that a great deal of emphasis was placed on client communication and support. Cancer most commonly affects older pets, and those many years have allowed time for a particularly strong human-animal connection to mature and develop. Introduction of the “C” word into this relationship can generate some emotional havoc that benefits from truly exceptional client support. The new oncology guidelines emphasize the need for excellent listening skills, empathy, asking of open-ended questions, and offering options. This is fabulous, and I am proud that my beloved profession is making such forward progress on the client communication front.
In addition to client support, the oncology guidelines address the following components of cancer management:
- Diagnosis of the cancer
- Staging of the cancer: determination of the extent of the local disease and the presence or absence of spread (metastasis)
- Cancer treatment
- Safety of the personnel handling chemotherapy drugs
- Referral to a specialist in oncology when appropriate
- Patient support
The guidelines include specific recommendations in a table format pertaining to the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer in small animals including: mammary (breast) cancer, lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, anal sac carcinoma, mast cell tumor, oral melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
Dr. John Berg, chair of the AAHA oncology guidelines task force, stated,
The guidelines are not meant to be an oncology textbook but are more like a snapshot of what is currently being done by specialists for animals with cancer. There is a constant flow of new clinical research coming out in veterinary oncology. It can be difficult for busy practitioners to keep up with all the information coming out in all fields, not just oncology, and the guidelines are intended to give practitioners a broad overview of how oncology specialists- medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgeons– currently approach cancer diagnosis and treatment.
If your dog or cat has recently been diagnosed with a cancerous condition, or this disease is suspected, I strongly encourage you to take a look at these oncology guidelines. Guaranteed you will become a better medical advocate for your pet.
Has one or more of your pets experienced cancer? If so, what type of cancer and what was the outcome?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.