Knowledge Is Power: Taking a Stand Against Cancer
Our pets are trusted companions who love us through thick and thin. If we are fortunate to have
them throughout their lives, they may experience the same types of illnesses that people face.
Sadly, the leading cause of natural death in dogs and cats is cancer. If not detected in the early
stages, the options for treatment become very limited, and palliative at best. This means providing
pain management and keeping the pet comfortable are all that are available in the later stages of
The great news is that there is something that we can do! Taking steps to prevent certain cancers and getting involved in helping detect cancer early are great tools and will allow us to explore a variety of treatment options. As a pet caretaker, the best way to help your little one(s) is to have him of her examined at least two times a year, even if he/she appears outwardly well, and to seek a veterinarian's attention early if any abnormalities are detected. This is especially recommended as the pet matures in age.
Along with lab work, there are many areas that we evaluate when doing cancer screening. Here are some to name a few:
Palpation of the abdominal organs for enlargement or structures that do not belong
Listening to the heart and lungs for muﬄed sounds that could indicate ﬂuid buildup (which can be from tumors)
Evaluating respiration rate and character
Examining lymph nodes for presence of those that are not usually palpable and observing the size and shape as well as ﬁrmness for abnormalities
Obtaining aspirates (drawing out cells) or biopsies (collecting "sheets" of tissue) when appropriate
Palpating the thyroid glands for nodules
Examining the oral (mouth) and nasal passages for masses or discharge
Detecting facial deformities and the function of facial nerves
Evaluating any changes of the contour of the iris of the eyes, presence of material ﬂoating or attached to the eye structures both in and out
Searching for presence of secretions or visible masses inside the ear canals
These systems as well as others are thoroughly evaluated when doing a screening for cancer. From
home, there are a number of signs that you can be on alert for that may help to detect cancer:
- Limping - This can be associated with an injury, inﬂammation, or even bone cancer.
Lumps and bumps - Many can be benign (non cancerous) but even the smallest of them can be dangerous and should be examined.
Odors - Abnormal foul smells from the mouth, ears, or other areas can often be a clue.
Discharges or ﬂuid buildup - These can be anything from pus, blood, or other ﬂuids that are seen being discharged or even noticeable body distention.
Wounds that aren't healing - Infection may be the cause, but cancer should also be considered.
Changes in appetite - This can occur when there is oral (mouth) pain, which can be due to gum disease or oral tumors, although can be seen in a number of other diseases.
Loss of weight - Weight loss can occur in a number of disease processes, but it's often seen in advanced stages if related to cancer.
Lethargy - Weakness or lack of interest in activities that a pet is accustomed to can be signs of systemic illness, including cancer.
Bowel movement or urinary changes - Presence of blood or straining can be signs of inﬂammation but can also be seen in certain cancers.
Breathing changes - Changes in pattern or presence of coughing may indicate that space in the chest is being occupied by either ﬂuid or tumors or both.
As a veterinarian, one of my goals is to search for clues to detect signs of disease. Once detected,
the next step is to get to the bottom of the source of disease and to ﬁnd the best way(s) to alleviate
the symptoms while restoring the health of the patient. The most rewarding experience is when the
detection of disease leads to a prolonged and better quality of life for our pets. With your help, we
can aim to meet these goals and face these challenges head on.
-LaShonn McNair, DVM