What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the name given to a group of drugs that have the ability to kill cancer cells. In veterinary oncology, we are able to use many different chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer. The specific drug or drug combination that is initially recommended for each patient varies depending on many factors, including the type of cancer to be treated, as well as the general health of the pet. Once treatment with chemotherapy has begun, the protocols are often further modified to provide the most efficacious treatment possible with the fewest side effects. Therefore, each chemotherapy protocol is highly tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient.

Will Chemotherapy Make My Pet Sick?

Many people are initially hesitant to use chemotherapy to treat their pet's cancer because they do not want to compromise their pet's quality of life. An owner may be concerned that treatment with chemotherapy will cause severe side effects in their pet and will make their pet feel poorly. While side effects are possible with chemotherapy and are described in detail below, the main goal of chemotherapy use in veterinary patients is different than it is in human patients. Our primary goal in using these drugs is to provide the pet with a good quality of life for as long as possible. We treat cancer as aggressively as we can but not at the expense of the pet's quality of life. If the pet starts to experience significant chemotherapy-related side effects, we alter our treatment plan. Fortunately, most dogs and cats tolerate chemotherapy much better than human patients.

Generally, dogs and cats that receive chemotherapy feel normal the day they are given the drug. Perhaps 3 to 5 days later, an owner might report that their pet does not feel 100%. But within 24 to 48 hours, the pet is back to his or her normal self until the cycle continues with the next dose of drug. After each dose of chemotherapy, we discuss with an owner whether or not the side effects seen in his or her pet would warrant a change in the pet's therapy. If everyone agrees that the pet's quality of life is good, and as long as there is evidence that the chemotherapy drug is working against the pet's cancer, we continue with the treatment.
However, every pet is different. A small percentage of pets are more sensitive to chemotherapy, and it is impossible to predict which pets will experience more severe chemotherapy toxicity. If severe toxicity occurs, hospitalization for a few days in a vet clinic may be necessary to help the pet recover. Fortunately, the need to hospitalize pets due to chemotherapy-related side effects is uncommon, and some studies show that hospitalization is necessary in less than 10% of patients receiving chemotherapy. Because our primary goal is to provide the pet with a good quality of life, if he or she experiences significant chemotherapy toxicity, we decrease the dose or change drugs in an attempt to avoid problems with future doses. Furthermore, if you are unhappy with the side effects associated with chemotherapy, you may choose to stop treatment at any time. Many dogs and cats are able to complete chemotherapy protocols without experiencing any toxicity at all or only experience mild toxicity.

Electrochemotherapy Treatment

Electrochemotherapy (ECT) is a relatively new, cutting edge treatment method for treating canine cancer. This involves enhancing the delivery of traditional chemotherapy by using an electrical field. An electrical field is delivered to the cancerous mass for only a few milliseconds. This causes the cancer cells to become more permeable for approximately an hour after treatment, This increases chemotherapy absorption by up to a thousandfold. In fact, ECT has successfully treated forms of cancer which do not typically respond to chemotherapy.

ECT is one of the most revolutionary cancer treatments available today. It is incredibly safe and can be used in conjunction with other treatments. ECT allows chemotherapy drugs, particularly bleomycin, to better permeate cancer cells. This drug, however, is formed of large molecules that may not reach the cancer cells. ECT allows these molecules to enter and destroy the cells.

ECT works best for skin tumors and those affecting the subcutaneous tissues. The success rate of ECT is 80%, and the results often last longer compared to cases treated with chemotherapy alone. Surgical treatment has a success rate of just 50%.

Have Questions About Treatment Options?

Our team is here to provide hope and comfort along with the most innovative treatments for pets with cancer.
Please contact us for a consultation appointment.