Pet Cancer Awareness. Protect. Cure. Love.

Mar 01, 2017

 Although it is a sad topic to discuss, cancers are unfortunately something we diagnose regularly in veterinary medicine. There are many diagnostic tests that can help us to better understand what is going on with your pets, but it can be confusing to understand the purpose of each or why multiple tests may be recommended by your veterinarian.

In our pets there are many different types of cancers. We see cancers that we can visualize externally, such as tumors on the skin, underlying tissues (subcutaneous tumors) and lymph nodes, or cancers that we cannot see because they are internal, affecting internal organs or bones.

To tell whether there may be cancer cells in an external tumor we have to obtain a sample to visualize microscopically. Unfortunately, there is no way for your veterinarian to know whether something is cancerous just by looking at it with their eyes or touching it. We wish we could have microscopic eyes though! In sampling a skin tumor there are a few different options. Our first and most non-invasive option is a fine needle aspirate. In obtaining an aspirate we take a small needle and poke the tumor to try and pick up some cells which are then looked at under the microscope. Unfortunately, certain types of tumors do not easily release cells with a small needle so it is not always the best diagnostic test. Sometimes we cannot obtain an accurate diagnosis with this test alone. The other option is a biopsy. With a biopsy we are looking at a piece of the tumor or the entire tumor so it gives us a much bigger picture and a more definite answer to what is going on.

When we are concerned for internal cancers there are various tests that might be recommended:

-Blood work: Bloodwork will screen your pet for many underlying diseases, however there is no specific blood test for cancer in your pet. We may see some changes that are consistent with certain cancers, but most of the time bloodwork alone does not indicate specifically if there is cancer in your pet. The exceptions to this are some cancers that primarily affect the blood cells such as leukemias.

-X-rays: X-rays help us to visualize the internal organs in your pet and when screening for cancer they help to identify if there are any tumors present in the chest or organs in the abdomen. They can help to identify bone tumors as well. X-rays can also show us if there is enlargement of certain organs or lymph nodes that could be consistent with cancer.

-Ultrasound: Sometimes we may recommend that your pet have an ultrasound performed. An ultrasound helps us to see more details in your pet’s abdomen. Sometimes when looking at an x-ray it is difficult to see specific abnormalities because organs overlap each other. An ultrasound allows us to look at each organ individually and look for abnormalities that may not be detectable with an x-ray alone.

-CT scan or MRI: If even more detail is needed in imaging, CT or MRI could be recommended.

Did you know that there are even veterinary oncologists? These specialists have completed a residency studying cancer in cats and dogs. After a cancer is diagnosed your vet may recommend consultation with a veterinary oncologist for treatment options. We know cancer is scary to think about, but if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s health we are always happy to talk with you at Hillcrest Animal Hospital.

Andrea Babischkin, DVM