How Early Detection of Cancer Leads to Better Outcomes for Our Pets

As important members of our families, more dogs and cats are enjoying longer lives due to routine preventive care and monitoring. Just as in humans, longer lifespans can lead to various diseases of aging, including cancer. Unfortunately, one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer, and it is the leading cause of death in nearly one-half of our canine and one-third of our feline companions. Developing methods to prevent cancer formation in our pets is an important area of study in veterinary oncology. While we await breakthroughs in cancer prevention, a focus on early detection of cancer is critical to ensure the best possible outcome after a cancer diagnosis.

Many cancers can be detected on physical examination, and early detection often means that the tumor is found when it is small, and therefore easier to treat with complete surgical removal.

Oral Cancers

A malignant melanoma. Photo © MedVet

For oral cancers like malignant melanoma, smaller tumor size also means that the potential for cancer spread (metastasis) is lower, leading to a better long-term prognosis. You may notice a growth within your dog’s mouth while they are panting or yawning, and your veterinarian will perform an oral examination during your pet’s routine visits. In addition, regular dental cleanings are very important for oral health, and they also give your veterinarian an opportunity to do a thorough oral cancer screening. 

Skin Tumors

Bengin lipoma. Photo © MedVet

Skin tumors [PHOTO] are common in dogs. Benign growths like lipomas (fatty tumors) and cysts are frequently diagnosed, but dogs can also develop malignant tumors including mast cell tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. You can play an active role in your pet’s health care by helping to detect skin masses. As you are petting your dog, take note of any lumps or bumps, and bring them to the attention of your veterinarian. We can perform a needle aspirate, which helps to diagnose most skin tumors, but some growths may require a surgical biopsy. Masses that are diagnosed as benign can often just be monitored. Malignant tumors may require extensive surgical removal to ensure that we achieve complete surgical margins, so diagnosing these tumors when they are small means that your pet can have a smaller surgical scar, and a better chance at long-term cancer control. 

Internal Cancer Growth

In some cases, canine tumors can grow internally. For example, dogs can develop lung masses, which are typically malignant, but slow-growing cancers. Initially, there will be no signs of illness, but over time the tumor will grow to a size that clinical signs, such as coughing or increased respiratory rate and effort, may develop. Studies have shown that the presence of clinical signs negatively impacts the prognosis for these patients, and often the cancer will have spread to lymph nodes or other areas of lung by the time those symptoms develop. To detect lung cancers early, chest x-rays must be performed as routine screening. If a lung tumor is diagnosed when it is small and has not spread, good outcomes are seen following surgery.

Routine Visits to Your Family Veterinarian are Crucial

A common theme in early cancer detection is that the best outcomes are seen when the tumor is small, and pets are asymptomatic at the time of diagnosis. Therefore, routine visits to your family veterinarian are important, even if you have no active concerns about your pet’s health.  Yearly check-ups are recommended for pets under seven years of age. Once pets reach age seven, biannual visits are ideal. Your veterinarian will perform a careful physical examination; be sure to point out any new lumps or bumps that you’ve noticed. Needle samples or biopsy are recommended to determine if the mass is of concern. In addition, your veterinarian may recommend routine lab work (complete blood count, chemistry panel, thyroid evaluation, urinalysis) to evaluate your pet’s cell counts and organ function. Finally, imaging tests (x-rays and/or ultrasound) are crucial to help us identify any internal tumors while they are small and before symptoms develop.

How MedVet Cincinnati Can Help 

If your veterinarian has identified a cancer during your pet’s evaluation, they may recommend consultation with a Board-certified veterinary oncologist.  At MedVet Cincinnati, we are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and we will evaluate your pet and provide a range of treatment options. Our goal is always to promote excellent quality of life and to keep your pet an active, happy member of your family for as long as possible.

Dr. Lane’s dogs. Photo © Jeanne Lane, DVM

Photo: Robb McCormick Photography – https://www.robbmccormick.com

Jeanne Lane, DVM, Diplomate, ACVIM (Oncology) is a Board-certified Veterinary Medical Oncologist at MedVet Cincinnati where she has been part of the team since 2018.

Dr. Lane earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science, graduating Summa Cum Laude, from the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT followed by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, MA. She then completed a rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery at VCA Veterinary Care in Albuquerque, NM as well as a Medical Oncology Residency at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, TN.

Dr. Lane has a special interest in the early detection of cancer, novel therapies for lymphoma, and helping to ensure a high quality of life for her Patients as they undergo cancer therapies. She strives to ensure that families understand their pet’s condition, the available treatments, and what they can expect during the treatment protocol. She finds developing a close relationship with the Patient and their family throughout the treatment protocol to be the most rewarding part of being a Board-certified Veterinary Medical Oncologist.

When not caring for her Patients, Dr. Lane enjoys photography, running, and spending time with her husband and two sons.

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