Dogs and Cancer: Get the Facts
A vet answers 10 commonly asked questions about cancer in dogs.
Because mixed-breed dogs come from a much larger gene pool, they would be
less likely to get genetic-based cancers. But that doesn’t do anything for
spontaneous cancers or environmentally caused cancers.
Q: What can I do to help prevent my dog from getting cancer?
A: The biggest thing is spaying your dog. If you spay a dog before its first
heat you’ll reduce the chance of mammary cancer eight-fold, just because of the
Good oral care can help decrease
oral cancers. And if you’re buying a purebred dog, check its line to see if
there’s a specific kind of cancer in that breed’s line.
But overall, prevention is difficult because we don’t know the causes of
most cancers. I think, rather than trying to prevent cancer, identifying it
early and treating it quickly is the better strategy.
Q: If my dog has cancer, does that mean he’s going to die?
A: Absolutely not. Probably the majority of the cancers we see can be dealt
with surgically. A lot of the breast cancers, a lot of the mast cell tumors, a
lot of skin tumors, soft tissue
sarcomas, many of those tumors can be removed surgically and are cured. Even in
situations where they have advanced to a lymph node, there are options that can
prolong your dog’s life and even cure him.
Q: What kinds of treatments are available for dogs with cancer?
A: We have pretty much all the options that are available to people. There’s
surgery, obviously. Radiation therapy is available in about 40 facilities
around the country. Chemotherapy has become commonplace. Now some places are
even doing research and clinical treatment of patients with immunotherapy tumor
vaccines, where we’re using the immune system to stimulate the
destruction of the cancer.
Q: The FDA approved the first drug for treating canine cancer in dogs in
June 2009. What other advancements will we be seeing in the treatment of canine
A: There have been several things, like the tumor vaccine I just mentioned.
There is a new vaccine against oral melanomas, the most common oral tumor.
Radiation therapy and technology is expanding so that the machines that we’re
using can now treat brain tumors and nasal tumors
and deep-seated tumors that previously we couldn’t access surgically.
Veterinary oncology has progressed amazingly in the past two decades. Twenty
years ago, most people didn’t even know dogs got cancer. Today it’s common to
find people whose dogs have been treated for cancer. There are so many more
facilities for treating canine cancer now, and there are veterinarians who do
nothing but treat cancer.
Q: What does it cost to treat a dog with cancer?