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Little-known Cancer Warning Signs

Shih TzuWhile it is always best to leave diagnosing a pet’s illness to professionals, it’s good to keep an eye on your pet’s health and be aware of telltale signs that your pet isn’t feeling well. Cancer can be a concern for many pet owners when a pet seems to be doing poorly, so in the following article we’ll discuss what to look for, and how to talk to your veterinarian in the greater Philadelphia area if you think your pet may have cancer. Every pet owner wants to see their dog and cat healthy and happy, as they are an important part of family life. So, noticing troubling signs means it’s time to look seriously at what is going on.

Pets, while nonverbal, are actually very good communicators—if you know what to look for. Pets’ behaviors and actions—or their lack thereof—can speak volumes. If your pet goes through a sudden change in appetite, loses a significant amount of weight in a short time, or seems to be experiencing lethargy or depression, it’s definitely time to call the vet. The same applies if your cat or dog is exhibiting difficulty breathing, persistent coughing, or evidence of pain. Changes in bowel habits should also be noted.

Other signs of cancer might show not in their behavior or actions, but in their physical body. When petting or grooming your pet, always pay attention to any lumps or bumps you might find. Wounds that won’t heal are also something to watch for. Even if your pet was wounded doing something common, their healing (or lack thereof) may be a sign of something significant. Also keep an eye—or rather, a nose—out for any abnormal odors, as sometimes a strange smell may be an indicator it’s time for a vet visit. Definitely consult your vet if you see any unusual discharges, as well.

Of course, any or all of the above might be signs or signals of something other than cancer in your pet. That’s why the very best thing you can do if you see any changes in your pet is to contact your vet. They’ll know what tests to do, and if the diagnosis is cancer, they’ll send you to a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital, like VRC, for staging and treatment.

No pet owner wants a diagnosis of cancer, but VRC can help. Our oncology service is staffed by thoughtful, experienced personnel whose primary goal is to help your animal maintain its quality of life throughout the cancer diagnosis and treatment process. Whether the solution is through surgical, medicinal, or radiation therapies, VRC will do the best we can to help your pet beat cancer, or preserve a good quality of life for the time a pet has left.

VRC’s oncology service is part of our specialty veterinary healthcare hospital. Located in Malvern in the greater Philadelphia area, we’re here to help your pet through his or her cancer diagnosis and treatment.

How Cancer is Treated in a Beloved Family Pet

pet cancer treatmentCancer is never a good word to hear from a veterinarian. It’s frightening, and often leaves pet owners feeling powerless, frustrated, and unsure of what to do for their beloved companion. For pet owners in the Philadelphia area, VRC in Malvern, PA is here to support you every step of the way. Not only is our oncology service staffed by experienced and caring people who can help you through this time, we also pride ourselves on having the state-of-the-art equipment necessary to diagnose, stage, and treat your pet’s disease

When your pet is showing signs of cancer, or has received a diagnosis of cancer previously, VRC’s team of oncologists and nurses will stage your pet’s cancer (find out if the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body), discuss recommended treatment options, and construct a treatment plan specific to your pet’s and family’s needs. Our oncology service is dedicated to providing comprehensive treatment and care for your pet. Our diagnostic imaging modalities include ultrasound, CT scan, digital radiography (x-rays), and access to MRI, which allow us to provide the most effective treatment possible, whether your pet needs medical, radiation, or surgical care. Our approach is multidisciplinary, because we believe in treating your pet’s cancer swiftly and effectively—and in terms of aftercare, we offer holistic treatment to support your pet’s healing and improve their comfort.

For pets, cancer care is about quality of life. We believe in curing your pet’s disease, or slowing its progression—whatever its stage calls for—while ensuring your pet’s day-to-day life is as comfortable as possible. This means that you, as your pet’s owner, are as vital a part of our care team as our veterinarians or nurses. We’ll always keep you informed of what’s going on with your animal, so that you can be their first line of defense, as well as their primary provider of comfort and security.

Cancer takes many forms, but on a basic level, it occurs when a body’s immune system is incapable of stopping certain cells from replicating abnormally. A tumor forms, affecting the body internally. As with humans, there is no one cause of cancer in pets. Certainly some animals are genetically predisposed, but other factors, such as environment, can play a part in causing several common types of cancer.

If you suspect your pet has cancer, or have a diagnosis from your veterinarian, contact VRC. We’re a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital in the greater Philadelphia area, and our oncology facility is up-to-date and ready to help your pet with their diagnosis and treatment.

Radiation Therapy at VRC

When you hear about radiation therapy, your mind may be brought to images of the Toxic Avenger, or news stories about victims of radiation accidents. Radiation therapy and how it works may seem like a mystery, and mystery can lead to apprehension. Rest assured that this treatment for cancer has evolved along with many advances in technology, resulting in highly accurate and safe treatments.

One main goal of radiation therapy is to deposit high doses of radiation in the unwanted tumor tissue, while exposing the surrounding normal tissue to the least amount of radiation possible. It is the normal tissues in the treatment area that limit the overall dose of radiation that we can safely prescribe. Quality of life is of utmost importance, and so the way radiation treatments are planned is to limit the number and severity of radiation side effects as much as possible. As with other treatments in veterinary medicine, there are side effects that must be managed to provide the best experience for the patient.

Perhaps you have heard of “radiation burns” from previous accounts of treatment with radiation therapy. This is a bit of a misnomer, as radiation does not incite a thermal injury. Rather, if tissues close to the skin surface experience some radiation dose, we get what is called “moist desquamation”.

Moist desquamation is when the lower layer of skin cells are affected on the first day of radiation therapy, and it typically takes these cells three or four weeks to rise to the surface during natural skin replenishment. When these cells reach the surface, they turn wet and fall off in a layer, leaving the underlying pink, healthy tissues. This is similar to if you’ve ever scraped your knee on asphalt: the underlying pink tissue gives off a fluid (plasma) that hardens into a crust (scab).

Moist desquamation may occur with mild inflammation. Our patients at VRC are prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and other low-dose pain medication to help with comfort while this early radiation side effect heals. Whether treated or not, most early effects of radiation therapy are healed within two-to-three weeks after treatment. It has been found that daily cleansing of the radiation site will help to hydrate the crusts that form and allow them to exfoliate naturally, accelerating the healing process.

Many accounts of “radiation burns” from therapeutic radiation come from older treatment plans using orthovoltage. This treatment modality utilized a lower energy beam that had higher radiation dose deposition in skin and preferential radiation dose absorption by bone. The early radiation effects from orthovoltage treatment included severe inflammation of the skin, while the late side effects (effects present 6 months after radiation therapy) included death of bone tissue, scarring of soft tissues, and secondary tumor formation. With the advent of the linear accelerator, which treats with a higher energy radiation beam (megavoltage), there is a skin sparing effect and no preferential bone absorption of radiation dose. This is why our patients look so good after treatment!

Another way to limit radiation dose to the normal surrounding tissues is to dose radiation over multiple beams from different angles. The multiple beams converge on the treated tumor, while the surrounding tissues experience a fraction of the dose. High dose conformity over the tumor is further enhanced by planning with Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), which uses individual lead leaves in the machine’s radiation window that are in constant motion during treatment. This action shapes the radiation field, “painting” the dose across the tumor and sparing more normal tissue than is possible with conventional radiation planning. IMRT can be used with nasal tumors, heart base tumors, prostate tumors, and more tumor types are being added to the list.

To learn more about Radiation Therapy at VRC or any other services that we offer, please give us a call at 610-647-2950 or email us at


What You Can Do When Your Pet is Suspected of Having Cancer

You looked up the telltale signs and symptoms online. You took your pet in to their veterinarian. Now you’ve gotten the diagnosis… and it seems like your pet has cancer.

It’s something no pet owner wants to hear, but unfortunately, our dogs and cats are just as susceptible to this disease as we are. Pets are such a large part of their owners’ lives, that our reactions to hearing the news can be similar to when we hear about a human friend with cancer… people experience grief, panic, confusion. We here at VRC understand this unfortunate part of pet guardianship, and we also understand that you’ll have questions—up to and including the biggest, scariest question of all: “what should I do next?”

Get A Consult with a Veterinary Oncologist

The best thing to do when you hear your pet has cancer is to get a consult with a veterinary oncologist. Sometimes, this can take the form of a biopsy, but not all cancers are able to be biopsied. There are other ways to determine the nature of your pet’s cancer other than biopsies, such as x-rays, MRIs, and so on. Not all veterinarians have access to such things, and it may be that you need to find one with access to advanced cancer assessment technologies. Pet oncology is crucial, when it seems like your pet might have cancer, and take it from us—a multidisciplinary approach will help you treat your pet’s cancer comprehensively.

Develop A Cancer Treatment Plan For Your Pet

Once you and your vet understand the extent of the cancer, then it’s time to determine a treatment plan. There are often multiple ways of approaching treating pet cancer, including surgical removal, chemotherapy, or radiation. Sometimes we use a combination of these treatments.  Rest assured, at VRC we strive to offer a multi-disciplinary approach to ease your pet’s discomfort and promote their healing.

With pet cancer, the goal is of course to cure it, if possible, but sometimes slowing the progression of the illness is all we can do, prolonging your pet’s life while making sure quality of life is not compromised. That’s why it’s so essential to develop a treatment plan tailored to your pet and your pet’s disease.

We here at VRC Specialty Hospital are committed to developing treatment plans for pets to help treat cancer in pets. We’re specialists who utilize a host of technologies and approaches to cancer in pets, such as diagnostic imaging, medical and radiation oncology, and surgical oncology. Additionally VRC can provide holistic medical approaches such as acupuncture and herbal remedies. Just because your pet has been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean it’s a death sentence—cancer in pets can be successfully treated, and that’s what we specialize in at our center in Malvern, PA.

If you’re looking for help regarding your pet’s cancer diagnosis, call VRC in Malvern, PA today at 610.647.2950 for a comprehensive, specialty approach to your questions.