Surgery is the oldest form of cancer therapy in human and canine medicine and has been responsible for the cure of more patients than any other treatment. This great success is mainly due to the development of new surgical techniques. One of the greatest advantages of surgery, other than that it can be used to cure some cancers, is that it can make other treatments work better. Indeed, surgery plays an important role in the prevention, diagnosis, definitive treatment and rehabilitation of the canine cancer patient.
While surgery is a critical step in the treatment of most canine malignancies, the surgical procedure can be frightening despite the fact that surgery will help your pet. We want to make sure that you understand the risks and benefits of surgery. This can be done by first having a frank and open discussion with the entire veterinary health care team. This discussion may help dispel unfounded myths. For example, you may be afraid that the surgery may inevitably disfigure you pet, or that the procedure will unduly result in a decreased quality of life. Your veterinary health care team can help you understand why this is not true.
There are many types of surgery that may be used to benefit the pet with cancer. For example:
Prevention of Cancer
Prevention of cancer with spaying and neutering in the pet is one example of a procedure that can help control some types of cancer and many noncancerous conditions, such as infection of the uterus (womb).
Diagnosis of Cancer
The veterinarian performing the surgery plays an important role in staging and determining the extent of cancer in dogs. A surgical biopsy is always required to make a definitive diagnosis. A biopsy may be obtained before the tumor is treated with the final procedure if it will change your willingness to treat, or the way the veterinary health care team will treat, the tumor. Surgery is then often employed to remove part or all of the cancer.
Curative Surgery for Primary Cancer
For the best chance of achieving a cure, a tumor must be removed with a properly executed surgical procedure the very first time the tumor is being treated with definitive surgery. The curative surgery for primary cancer is the most common use of surgery for the pet with cancer.
Surgery for Tumor Left after a Prior Surgery
The best opportunity to cure a pet with a malignant disease is with the first surgery, however, tumors are sometimes incompletely removed with a first surgery requiring subsequent therapy. "Debulking" surgery alone (i.e., surgery to reduce the size of a tumor rather than completely remove it) is rarely an acceptable form of therapy unless it is used simply as a method to improve quality of life.
Surgery for Metastatic Disease
Surgical removal of metastases (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body) should be considered in select cases when it is obvious that the original cancer is not progressing rapidly and that the metastatic disease is restricted to a single site or a few sites that can be surgically excised. This is especially true when the surgery for the metastatic disease will improve quality of life or serve as a diagnostic tool for the management of your pet's disease.
Surgery for Emergencies
The most common applications for oncologic surgery in an emergency setting include
the treatment of bleeding, perforation by a stomach ulcer, blockage of organs, or the drainage of an infected abscess.
Surgery to Improve Quality of Life (Palliation)
When a tumor or its metastasis results in significant discomfort for your pet, surgery can be employed to improve or maintain the quality of life. In these patients, surgery should be used only if you are clearly aware that this procedure will not be curative.
Surgery can result in some adverse effects, most of which are resolvable. You should watch the incision every single day for excess swelling or discharge. Keep it clean, but be aware that the incision is tender to the touch. If you have any questions, contact your veterinary health care team. Things to watch for include:
Keep the area clean by gently washing with mild soap and water.
Contact your veterinary health care team immediately.
Redness, swelling, and/or crusting of the stitches.
Keep the area clean by gently washing with mild soap and water and contact your veterinarian. Monitor your pet's body temperature and make sure it does not go above 102° F.
Infection of the surgery sites that can result in depression, loss of appetite, swelling, discharge, fever (rectal temperature of 102.2° F).
Contact your veterinary health care team immediately.
Stitches (sutures or staples) that come untied, or that your pet licks or scratches out.
Contact your veterinary health care team and consider a shirt or an Elizabethan collar.
Contact your veterinary health care team to ensure your pet has appropriate pain control therapy.
Contact your veterinarian if the wound does not heal within the amount of time discussed to consider possible therapies.
The surgical team at California Veterinary Specialists is ready and able to provide the very best surgical care for your pet with cancer. If we can help, please contact us at 760-734-4433.
Many people have preconceived notions about what radiation therapy does and what its effect is on the pet with cancer. Radiation therapy is often shrouded in negative misconceptions. The term "radiation" alone may conjure up horrible images for some people of nuclear bomb victims. However, the healing power of therapeutic radiation has been used to help restore the health and well being of dogs with cancer for decades. In order to ensure that your pet receives the best care possible, we want to enhance your understanding about the realities of