By Brooke Valenti
Did you know that one in four dogs and one in five cats will develop cancer in their lifetime? These statistics from the non-profit Animal Cancer Foundation seem astounding. Further, the Veterinary Pet Insurance Company reports that cancer-related conditions were one of the most common types of medical claims it received last year.
During this time of year, many prevalent cancers affecting humans — ovarian, prostate, breast and lung — receive wide attention in the media and advocacy communities. But many people may still not know that pets can be affected by many forms of this dreaded disease, breast cancer included.
To mark National Pet Cancer Awareness Month in November, we bring you some information about breast cancer in pets: When this illness occurs in dogs and cats it’s called mammary cancer, which is one of the most common types of cancer dogs and cats can get. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s also one of the most preventable.
First, a bit of anatomy: Dogs typically have five mammary glands on each side, while cats commonly have four mammary glands per side. It’s much more common to see mammary tumors in the glands nearest the inguinal area, which are called the caudal glands. The caudal glands are larger and contain more mammary tissue than the glands near the front, which are called the axillary glands.
Mammary tumors can be either benign or malignant and they can occur in both males and females. In dogs, about half of the mammary tumors are benign and half are malignant, but in cats over 90% are malignant.
One of the most effective ways to prevent mammary tumors from developing is to have your dog or cat spayed before their first heat. In dogs, this reduces the chance of getting mammary cancer down to 0.5%, which is a dramatic reduction. Having cats spayed before their first heat cycle is still beneficial in preventing mammary cancer, although the risk reduction is not as dramatic as in dogs.
In addition to having your pet spayed, one the best ways to protect your pet is to do frequent “exams.” This can be as simple as having your pet lie on her back, and petting her belly. Feeling for any small lumps, bumps, swellings and finding them when they are small—often pea sized—is very helpful. At this size, surgical removal has the best chance of curing your pet.
If your dog or cat does develop mammary tumors, treatment is often very effective. Surgical removal is the primary recommendation. Once removed, a biopsy is performed and further therapy may or may not be recommended. Chemotherapy is quite valuable in many cases and most pets experience little to no toxicity. This is because veterinary oncologists and pet owners have made the conscious choice NOT to put our pets through what people go through when treated with chemotherapy. We accomplish this by using lower doses of chemotherapy and increasing the interval between treatments.
Our state-of-the-art, 24-hour specialty facility offers highly trained cancer specialists and the most advanced equipment to accurately diagnose and effectively treat all forms of cancer in pets. Your pet will receive compassionate, specialized care to complement the services provided by your family veterinarian. Working together, our medical-surgical team will be dedicated to making sure that your pet has the best chance for remission from cancer and an improved quality of life.
For more information about the Animal Cancer Foundation visit www.acfoundation.org, which was founded by Dr. Gerald Post, our valued oncology services partner and distinguished board-certified veterinary cancer specialist.