There are many ways to help dogs and cats with cancer. Paramount in every case is keeping quality of life good and this is usually easiest to achieve if the amount of cancer in the body is reduced. This can be done with surgery, radiation, and medical treatments. Proven medical therapies for pets with cancer are of 4 broad types. These treatments are specific to the cancer type and not every cancer can be treated effectively with medicine.
One approach uses medications given by drip, injection, or by mouth every 1-4 weeks, usually for 2-6 months. Whilst the drugs differ depending on the cancer, they are only used if the effective dose can be given without side effects to the majority of patients. Those that do prove sensitive can often still be treated effectively with lower doses. These treatments are given in hospital but in most cases only require a half day to be administered safely.
Another category of treatment is termed metronomic therapy. This requires frequent (every 1-2 days) medication and is simply the use of tablets at home. Some of these treatments work directly on the cancer, but all work on the tissue the cancer grows in as well. By lifting the ability of the immune system to ‘see’ the tumour, and limiting the ability of the cancer to acquire new blood vessels, the growth of the tumours can in many cases be dramatically slowed.
When the focus is on a specific site in the body (i.e. a single tumour rather than widespread cancer), drugs can often be injected into the tumour effectively. These procedures carry no risk of sickness.
Finally, vaccines are being developed to harness the immune system to fight cancer. At present, there is only one vaccine available (for melanoma in dogs), but hopefully this method will allow more options in time.
Every patient and every cancer is unique, and the best option will vary in each case. Your veterinarian can refer you to Perth Veterinary Oncology if you would like more information concerning all options for your pet.