Don’t despair, just care: Part III: What’s next?


By Tracie Korol
Your nagging suspicion was right. There is something wrong with your dog. It’s not a sprained shoulder or a sore paw. It’s cancer.
Your vet describes the options: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Your dog may be eligible for a clinical trial, there are veterinary oncology specialists in Savannah and Charleston, there are complementary and alternative therapies available, you may want to say good-bye now, please decide within 24 hours, this is a medical emergency.  Holy cow! You struggle to comprehend median survival times, treatment plans, side effects, quality of life issues, and new demands on your schedule — not to mention your bank account.  Meanwhile, your old friend stares at you with trusting eyes.
If the cancer is detected early and the tumor is still small, odds are your vet will recommend that it be removed surgically. This involves removing not only the tumor but also a margin of surrounding tissue. Radical surgery, such as amputation, has a longer recovery time and more complications than minor surgery.  The relative good news is that improvements in anesthesia and innovations such as laser surgery make surgeries safer and more effective.
Other treatments of cancer include:
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy damages and then kills rapidly developing cancer cells.  It is delivered in small doses, often daily over a period of time lasting several weeks. Small doses reduce this therapy’s most common side effect, damage to normal tissue. Some veterinary clinics will implant radioactive beads in tumors (brachytherapy); some will use tomotherapy, which zaps the tumor with a rotating beam source, targeting from different angles. Some clinics will replace radiation with photodynamic or drug-laser therapy.
Chemotherapy uses drugs that damage and kill cancer cells when administered orally or intravenously or in combination with surgery and/or radiation. These drugs are harsh DNA-damaging chemicals that interfere with cell growth. It is recommended for cancers that have metastasized and for tumors that cannot be surgically removed. Side effects vary, though dogs tend to have fewer adverse reactions than humans. Chemo treatments are usually discontinued once a cancer has gone into remission; for other dogs, chemo is an ongoing, permanent protocol.
Anti-angiogenic therapy is a medical strategy that is still relatively new to humans, let alone dogs. Anti-angiogenic therapy starves tumors and prevents growth by cutting off the blood supply with drugs.  This therapy is a treatment option that helps stabilize cancer as a chronic manageable disease. It is often used in combination with conventional therapies.
Alternative therapies treat the whole animal, mobilizing the body’s immune system to heal itself. This approach to healing, used alone or in conjunction (complementary) with conventional cancer therapies provides homeopathic, herbal, energetic and nutritional support (feed the dog, not the cancer). It encompasses acupuncture, static magnetic and infrared therapy, Healing Touch, Reiki, and transfer factor supplementation that protects the body from “opportunistic” infections which often occur during conventional treatments.
Also, there is my personal favorite therapy, The Power of Positive Thinking.
Cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence for your dog. But when a lengthy and expensive treatment with no guarantee of a successful outcome is prescribed, it’s no shame to think about yourself as well as your dog. If you decide to forego treatment (which is a personal decision, and your business alone), talk to your vet about all of the ways you can make your pet as comfortable as possible, and then make a conscious effort to enjoy every minute of your time together.

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