Oncology FAQs

general-diagnosticsWhat is a board-certified veterinary oncologist?

A board-certified veterinary oncologist is a veterinarian who focuses on managing cancer. In addition to completing undergraduate training and four years of veterinary school, a board-certified veterinary oncologist is similar to his/her human-medicine counterpart in that he/she has completed an internship and residency in the specialized field of oncology (an additional 3-5 years training). In addition to this extensive training, a board-certified veterinary oncologist must pass two rigorous examinations to achieve board certification from the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Why should I seek the care of a board-certified oncologist?

According to the ACVIM, “Specialists bring a greater understanding in the area of…oncology…and have a greater knowledge of the unusual, the uncommon, or rare in both large and small animals. In addition, a Specialist may have diagnostic equipment not generally used by your family veterinarian.”

Ask your veterinarian if the procedure or treatment requires a specialist. General procedures and therapeutics may be less likely to require someone who is board-certified. You and your pet may benefit from a specialist when

  • Your animal’s disease is not routine, is complicated, or is undiagnosed after standard testing;
  • You would like an informed, neutral second opinion of your animal’s condition;
  • The outcomes of the current treatments are not going well or as expected;
  • Your animal requires a sophisticated procedure that is offered by a specialty hospital;
  • Your animal can benefit from 24-hour monitoring provided by a referral hospital.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell division leading to growth of abnormal tissue. It is believed that cancers arise from both genetic and environmental factors that lead to aberrant growth regulation of a stem cell population, or by the dedifferentiation of more mature cell types.

The uncontrolled and often rapid proliferation of cells can lead to either a benign tumor or a malignant tumor (cancer). Benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body or invade other tissues, but can sometimes be life threatening as a result of their location (e.g. benign brain tumors). Malignant tumors have the potential to invade other organs, spread to distant locations (metastasize), and become life threatening.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in pet cats and dogs in the United States; 50% of dogs and cats die of cancer.

How is cancer treated?

As with cancer in humans, cancer in pets may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination thereof. There are many types of cancer and the treatment approach will depend on the type of cancer and whether the cancer has spread. The oncologist will review the treatment options with you and help you decide on the best treatment option for your pet and your family circumstances.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with chemical agents (anti-cancer drugs) designed to kill or slow the growth of cancers. Many of the drugs used to treat cancer are derived from natural substances such as plants, trees, or even bacteria and are often the same drugs used in people.

What is the goal of chemotherapy?

The goal of chemotherapy is to control or eliminate the cancer while still providing the highest quality of life to your pet. Chemotherapy drugs sometimes do not cure cancer but rather control the cancer by killing cells and slowing the progression of the disease.

Will there be side effects of chemotherapy treatment?

Many people have experienced, either in themselves or in family members, the overwhelming side effects of chemotherapy in human cancer treatment. The vast majority of animals treated with chemotherapy do not experience these types of side effects. In veterinary oncology, our philosophy of treatment is different from that used in human medicine. While we have a very strong emphasis on prolonging life with cancer treatment, quality of life is paramount.

What should I expect during my pet’s oncology appointments?

Please see “Oncology appointment FAQ.”