Inevitably, pet owners have a lot of questions when there pet has been diagnosed with cancer. Below you will find answers to some of the more commonly asked questions.
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QUESTION: My local veterinarian said that my dog/cat has cancer (thinks they have cancer). Now what?
Answer: An accurate diagnosis is very important to treatment decision-making. Discuss with your veterinarian having a fine-needle aspirate or biopsy performed. Ask about the possibility of referral to a specialist if your pet’s case looks complicated at the beginning. If your veterinarian is not clear on the best course, ask him/her to consult with an oncologist.
QUESTION: When should I get a second opinion?
ANSWER: The best way to get a second opinion is working through your family veterinarian. Ask them for a referral to a board-certified specialist in oncology and ask them to help you with the appointment by providing records and a referral request, if necessary. You may also contact an oncologist directly to request an appointment to have your pet evaluated.
QUESTION: What if there are no oncologists in my area/state/country?
Answer: Oncology is a growing specialty area of veterinary care and there are private practices and veterinary schools offering this service throughout most areas of the USA. In some areas this may involve considerable distances to travel to seek out specialty care. Your veterinarian can call specialists at these schools and practices on your behalf to ask about what the best treatment option would be for your pet with cancer. Depending on the nature of the treatment, some therapy may be able to be offered in your local practice or your pet may need to travel for a specific treatment. It is worth asking whether your pet could stay at a center throughout its therapy e.g some radiation clinics will offer boarding facilities for pets during a course of radiotherapy.
VCS has a searchable database for member professionals that you may access. It includes our members in the US as well as Canada and other countries across the world. We recommend that you only put in your state or country to get a list of professionals in your state or country and then determine how far you are willing to travel for a consult or potential treatment. You will want to look for members whose membership type says PROFESSIONAL MEMBER. If you are in Europe, you may email the European Society of Veterinary Oncology (ESVONC) at firstname.lastname@example.org. They will have many more contacts for you in European countries. Japan also has a veterinary cancer society.
QUESTION: How do I find a reputable oncologist in my area? How do I know if they are really qualified? How important is it to consult a “board certified” oncologist?
ANSWER: Veterinarians certified by the ACVIM in oncology have undergone specialty training, demonstrated their knowledge by passing a challenging examination, and contributed to knowledge of veterinary oncology through scientific publication. These doctors are best trained to manage challenging cancer cases. Board-certified veterinary oncologists can be found in your area at ACVIM.org or on our website at vetcancersociety.org.
QUESTION: If I call an oncologist on the phone about my pet, will they talk to me or do I have to bring the pet in? I just want some general information and typically the front desk people don’t have that information.
ANSWER: Different specialty clinics handle this differently, although in general you will need to have an appointment at the clinic to speak to an oncologist. Many clinics will have a referral coordinator or veterinary technician that can answer general questions about testing that may be done and costs for assorted tests, as well as how a clinic visit works and what you can expect during that visit.
QUESTION: What should I bring with me to that first appointment with my oncologist?
ANSWER: Please bring a copy of the relevant medical records, all labwork, and any imaging studies that have been made of your animal to the appointment.
QUESTION: What can I expect at a first appointment with an oncologist? What tests might they want to do?
ANSWER: The oncologist will ask you a thorough history and perform a very careful physical examination on your pet. Typically, the treatment plan for your animal will depend on the specific diagnosis, grade, and stage of the cancer. This may mean collecting tissue (biopsy), fine needle aspirates, radiographs, ultrasound, or even CT or MRI scans to identify the aggressiveness of the tumor (grade) and extent of the tumor in the body (stage). It will be important that your pet be healthy enough to undergo therapy, so blood tests will also likely need to be collected, if not performed recently. These may include a complete cell count prior to chemotherapy, a serum chemistry profile to assess organ function, and a urinalysis or culture to assess kidney function and screen for infection.
QUESTION: Will the veterinary oncologist communicate with my local veterinarian? Will they send reports to my veterinarian?
ANSWER: Communication is most typically by phone and referral letter. This may vary somewhat by practice or area, but communication between the specialist and primary health-care team is important. Be sure to specify all the members of your primary health-care team if you see more than one veterinarian regularly so that all can be kept on the same page.
QUESTION: What should I ask the oncologist when I see him/her?
ANSWER: Be sure to ask for information that you need to know to make the best decisions for your pet. For some, as frank a discussion about prognosis as possible is necessary for decision-making. For others, a clear understanding of the risks and effects of the treatment is most important. Request the information that you need to feel you are making the right decisions. Keep in mind that the future of any patient is unknown. The best oncologist will not be able to tell you exactly what to expect. However, experienced specialists are good at helping you understand the range of possibilities to anticipate.
QUESTION: What resources exist that might help me further understand my pet’s illness?
Answer: The best resource for understanding your pet’s illness is your oncologist. He or she has access to the newest and most innovative information about the diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancer in animals. He or she also belongs to a large professional network of colleagues whose expertise is shared through regular scientific meetings and an active list-serve.
There are many websites and books available that share information and experiences relating to cancer in dogs and cats. Resources authored by board certified veterinary oncologists usually contain the most reliable information. For instance, the Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology website contains information specific to many canine and feline cancers: http://www.vsso.org/Cancer_Information_1.html
Because research is ongoing, it is not possible to keep this information up to date at all times and the information may not apply to your pet’s situation. Treatment options and estimates of prognosis often vary significantly between patients depending on cancer subtype, the presence of cancer spread, and treatment option chosen. Please always consult with your oncologist about whether this information applies to your pet’s situation or whether newer information is available.