Chemotherapy for our Pets

Just hearing the word “chemotherapy” conjures frightening emotions. Cancer, in any form, is a terrible disease to battle. In human medicine it may also seem that the treatment of cancer is as bad if not worse than the disease itself. As there are numerous forms of cancer, there are also numerous forms of treatment. In general, cancer is fought by 1) surgically removing a tumor, 2) using radiation to target and remove localized cancer, and 3) providing chemotherapy to treat potentially generalized disease as well as “clean up” any remaining cells. This is true of both human and animal medicine.

Chemotherapy is simply a term that means using chemicals to therapeutically treat a condition. So in theory, any medication used for any disease may be called chemotherapy. However, we save this term for specific treatment of neoplasia, or cancer.

Research is an ongoing effort to find the safest and most efficacious medicines to treat cancer. Historically, the medicines used for cancer have terrible side effects, at least in people. Most of these medicines do not specifically target cancer. They are designed to target any fast growing/dividing cells which neoplasia, or “new growth” typically exhibit. One main reason cancer is so bad is that is grows so rapidly. Chemotherapy attacks any cells that grow rapidly which is great for treating cancer, but is terrible for normal, rapidly dividing cells. Cells that line the stomach and intestines grow quickly so that vomiting and diarrhea are common side effects. People’s hair grows quickly, so our hair falls out.

Pets, fortunately, do quite well with chemotherapy. Although they are very similar in physiology to humans, they do not generally suffer the same intensity of side effects. What vomiting and diarrhea that may occur, simple medicines seem to be very beneficial. Rarely do pets loose hair.

Different chemotherapies do seem to work better on different types of cancer. Therefore before any medication is chosen, it is imperative that the specific cancer is diagnosed through either biopsy or blood testing.

We are fortunate here at Williamson County Animal Hospital that we are able to provide your pets with the best medicine possible, including chemotherapy.