Cancer is the one word that no loving and compassionate pet owner wants to hear. The term cancer refers to diseases that are characterized by the out of control division and growth of abnormal cells within the body. Cancer can occur anywhere in the human body, and anywhere in our pet’s bodies too. In fact, our animals are just as likely to develop cancer as we are. It is estimated that one in every here dogs will develop cancer in their lifetime – a ratio scarily similar to the incidence of cancer in humans.
Fortunately, there are also treatments that can help to slow, halt and even kill cancers in our animals. One of the most effective is radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy has shown to be very effective at helping in controlling and treating cancer in both pets and humans alike. This is because, at high doses, radiation has been shown to slow down the growth of cancer cells by damaging their DNA, causing them to die. However, this doesn’t happen immediately. It takes days, weeks or even several months of radiation to damage the DNA of cancer cells enough for to die.
Radiation therapy works by using high-energy rays that target specific locations where cancer cells are located. This makes it a little different to chemotherapy, during which the whole body is exposed to cancer-fighting medication. However, the targeted focus of radiation means that it is possible to inflict as much damage as possible onto the cancer cells whilst causing as little harm as possible to healthy, normal cells that are nearby.
Since radiation is applied to a specific part of the body, it is often not particularly useful in treating those cancers that have metastasized (spread to other parts of your pet’s body). However, if your pet’s cancer is confined to one location or is particularly prevalent in one location, radiation therapy may be recommended alongside other treatments.
Some types of cancer are particularly sensitive to radiation, such as mast cell tumors, squamous cell carcinomas, meningiomas, thyroid tumors, cancers of the white blood cells and some sarcomas. Our veterinary team will be able to discuss how effective radiation is likely to be for your pet based on the type and stage of cancer that he has.
Radiation therapy causes side effects in animals as well as humans. These usually begin around halfway through your pet’s treatment and can potentially last for several weeks. The most common side effect is hair loss, which typically occurs at the site where radiation has been administered. Other reported side effects include sore skin that resembles sunburn, dermatitis, loss of skin elasticity and the development of extra pigmentation on the skin.
If you have any more questions about the use of radiation therapy for pets with cancer, our animal care specialists would be happy to help. Contact us by calling our facility in Westford, MA on (978) 577-4848.