Pets Get Cancer, Too! October is Pet Cancer Awareness Month

Awareness campaigns are meant to keep important topics in the forefront of people’s minds. If people are thinking about a particular topic, they are likely to spread the word, donate money and work toward a cure (since many awareness campaigns center on medical conditions). And awareness campaigns are not just for people anymore, either! Since our pets get many of the same medical conditions as we humans do, awareness campaigns also help focus attention on conditions that affect our pets.

The information below is an updated version of our annual notice for October’s Pet Cancer Awareness Month campaign:

Many owners find it amazing that pets can get cancer. Actually, many owners find it amazing that their pets get lots of the diseases that veterinarians treat — diabetes, kidney failure, cirrhosis of the liver, kidney stones, etc. Just about any disease that people can get, an animal can get. (I have yet to see a dog with a migraine or an alcoholic cat, but I’m sure these are just around the corner!)

In people, we have great resources for figuring out how often humans are afflicted with cancer. Organizations like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track human cancers and other conditions, but for animals there are no such agencies. There are a few registries and some scholarly articles out on the topic, but nothing like the scale we see in people.

We do have some statistics, though. Check out this sobering, and a little depressing, statistic from Dr. Matthew Breen, a veterinary cancer researcher at North Carolina State University: “One in five Golden Retrievers, one of the most popular breeds in the U.S., is diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma and is likely to die from it. One in eight Golden Retrievers are diagnosed with and die from … lymphoma. In the overall dog population, we estimate 300,000 dogs die from lymphoma each year.”

There is some good news, though — check out this info from Medical News Today about lymphoma in pets:

A team of researchers from the University of Leicester has helped Avacta Animal Health Ltd. to develop a new user-friendly electronic system for diagnosing lymphoma in dogs in the early stages, and for remission monitoring. Marketed as cLBT (canine lymphoma blood test), this is the first test of its kind to track the remission monitoring status of a dog after undergoing chemotherapy.

Cancer can take many forms and show up in many ways. Just as with people, the sooner it is detected, the sooner you can get started on treatment. Treatments for cancer can include medications (chemotherapy; the “chemo” part just means drugs or medications used to treat cancer, not radiation), surgery, radiation therapy and some specialized treatments like new cancer vaccines. Veterinarians in general are not as aggressive in treating cancer as human MDs are as we are just trying to give patients back a good quality of life (by controlling symptoms) while not totally eradicating cancer from the body so they can live another 30 years. As a result, pets generally do better than people with cancer treatments.

Some signs to watch out for that indicate a need to see your veterinarian:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Seizures in a pet older than 5 years of age
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Lumps on the skin
  • Lethargy or loss of appetite for over 48 hours

Cancer is definitely a no-good, very bad thing, but it is not a death sentence by any means. Keep an eye on your pet and know their habits, and pay a visit to your trusted family veterinarian if anything seems amiss. If need be, they can always refer you to an oncologist, or veterinary cancer specialist — yes, those exist, too!

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