Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine
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Medical Oncology

Chemotherapy is primarily used to treat non-localized malignant tumors.  It is ideally used with a curative intent, but in veterinary medicine usually only achieves a palliative effect. This does allow our patients to enjoy a prolonged disease free interval, an improved quality of life, and often an increased survival time. 

Prior to the use of chemotherapeutic agents, it is important to be aware of certain principles in order to best benefit our patients. It seems obvious, but before beginning therapy, the veterinarian must have a cytological or histological diagnosis of the tumor type he or she is going to treat and also must know to what drugs the tumor is sensitive. In addition, there needs to be measurable parameters by which to gauge the animal's response to treatment, such as direct or radiographic measurement of the size of the mass, the quantification of tumor cells in the blood (in the case of leukemia) or effusions, or following of paraneoplastic conditions such as hypercalcemia. 

Tumor Cell Dynamics

An understanding of tumor cell dynamics is important for the understanding and planning of successful treatment of malignancies and points out the error of the wait and see approach. Tumor cells are dividing most rapidly when the tumor is small, and rapidly dividing cells are the most sensitive to chemotherapy. Therefore if a tumor is known to be sensitive to chemotherapy, it is best to treat a tumor shortly after surgery or radiation therapy when no tumor can be found rather than waiting until the tumor has regrown.

Effects of Chemotherapy on the Animal

The side effects of chemotherapy on our animal patients are usually very minimal if  they occur at all. The relative lack of side effects occurs for several reasons, one of which is the dosages used in animals are not as high as those used in people. While an animal is receiving chemotherapy it is closely monitored by the veterinarian by means of physical exams and bloodwork.  Our philosophy is that an animal should feel as good, if not better, than normal while it is receiving chemotherapy.  If there are problems that are definitely caused by the drugs, we can change the drug, change to dose, treat the side effects with additional therapies, or we can discontinue treatment.

Tumor type Dogs Cats
Lymphosarcoma yes yes
Osteosarcoma yes no
Soft Tissue Sarcomas yes yes
Mammary Carcinoma yes yes
Thyroid Carcinoma yes no
Bladder Carcinomas yes yes
Squamous Cell Carcinoma yes yes
Other Carcinomas yes yes
Leukemias  yes yes
Multiple Myeloma yes yes
Mast Cell Tumors yes yes
Transmissible Venereal Tumors yes no
Injection-site sarcomas no yes

Key Benefits of Chemotherapy

  • Chemotherapy treats disease that is no longer localized
  • Can delay recurrence of tumors
  • Can delay development of metastasis
  • Auburn University | College of Veterinary Medicine | Auburn, Alabama 36849 | (334) 844-4546
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