Treating cancer in dogs and cats

In early February, Michele and John Slick were poking around in their dog Kennedy's mouth to investigate what might be causing bouts of coughing and gagging.

They never expected to find a long, fleshy, finger-like tumor.

The next day, the Ohio Township couple took the 9-year-old basset hound to their veterinarian, who later surgically removed the mass. The next week, biopsy results revealed that Kennedy had canine oral malignant melanoma, an aggressive cancer with a high potential to spread to other organs.

"We were devastated," Mrs. Slick said. "He means the world to us. It wasn't something we were prepared for."

After learning survival odds for that type of cancer from their vet and further researching the disease online, "it looked like it was going to be pretty much a death sentence," she said.

To the Slicks' relief, that wasn't the case. Their vet referred Kennedy to the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center's new Cancer Center -- the only comprehensive animal cancer treatment facility in Western Pennsylvania. After more surgery, four radiation therapy treatments and continued immunotherapy with a melanoma vaccine, Kennedy's cancer is now in remission.

"I always joke that I have an easy job in the sense that people expect the worst when they first come in," said Rebecca Newman, DVM, a cancer specialist at the $1.5 million facility in Ohio Township. "They already have it in their head that this is going to be horrible and their animal is going to be suffering, based on what they know about human cancer. Then we talk, and they find out it's not the same."

In veterinary oncology, quality of life is always the priority, so cancer is not treated as aggressively as it is in humans, Ms. Newman said. As a result, dogs and cats don't experience the same severe side effects, she said.

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  1. But frightening

  2. Why don't they experience the same side effects - are they studying that?