Frequently Asked Questions About Canine Cancer

Cancer treatment for dogs - woman playing with her dogsMay is Pet Cancer awareness month so we wanted to bring you some frequently asked questions on canine cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research, there are approximately 65 million pet dogs in the United States. Roughly six million of them will be diagnosed with “spontaneous, naturally occurring cancer” each year, making cancer one of the leading killers of adult dogs today. It is common for many questions to come to mind when seeking information about cancer diagnosis and cancer treatments for dogs. Below are answers to a number of common queries.


Canine Cancer FAQ


Q: How does the rate of cancer in dogs compare to that in humans in the U.S.?

A: Dogs are much more likely to develop cancer, with six million out of a population of 65 million receiving the diagnosis, as noted above. While on the other hand, 1.7 million out of 321 million humans will be diagnosed with cancer annually.

Q: Are the cancers that affect dogs the same as those that affect humans?

A: Yes. Dogs develop many of the same kinds of cancer that humans do. These can include lymphoma, melanoma, mast cell tumor, soft tissue sarcoma, and mammary carcinoma, but can also include many rarer forms of cancer.


Q: Are the treatments for dogs with cancer the same as those used in humans?

A: As in humans, each cancer is different and may require a specific treatment approach.  There are a number of  ‘conventional’ chemotherapy drug treatments commonly used in humans that have been adapted successfully for dogs for certain cancers, but many of these treatments have not been approved for veterinary use.  Newer dog cancer treatments have been specifically approved for use in different cancers, such as Palladia (toceranib phosphate) for dog mast cell tumor treatment and TANOVEA™-CA1 (rabacfosadine for injection), the first FDA-conditionally approved drug for dog lymphoma treatment.


Q: I have heard the term “comparative oncology” used regarding dogs. What is that?

A: Comparative oncology involves comparing the results of cancer research conducted by many different groups (veterinary oncologists, medical oncologists, pharmaceutical companies, research laboratories, etc.) on dogs and humans. It is a way to learn more about cancer and to develop treatment options that could someday benefit both animals and humans.


Q: My veterinarian believes my dog may have cancer. So, what happens next?

A: Each cancer is different and may require a unique approach to confirm a cancer diagnosis.  In general, a veterinarian will likely perform what’s called a “fine-needle aspirate” or biopsy of a suspected tumor and analyze the cells captured. A blood test, serum chemistry panel and urinalysis may provide important additional diagnostic information. Then, if the presence of cancer is confirmed, treatment options will be discussed with you.


Q: How can I get a second opinion about a cancer diagnosis for my dog?

A: Your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified specialist in oncology for diagnosis and/or follow up care, providing you with necessary medical records and a referral request if appropriate. The veterinary oncologist is likely aware of the latest advancements for cancer diagnosis and care, and can help you decide on the most appropriate dog cancer treatment for your situation.


Q: Will I need to understand everything I learn from my veterinary oncologist so I can share it with my family veterinarian?

A: Generally speaking, no. Your veterinary oncologist will likely communicate directly with your family veterinarian. If you have multiple veterinary professionals helping with your case, it’s important that they are all aware of this to ensure everyone is getting the right information concerning your dog with cancer.  However, it is important that you are comfortable with the information provided – don’t be afraid to ask your veterinary specialist to help explain anything you want to understand further about your pet’s specific cancer type and treatment approach.


Information is a Key Weapon in the War Against Canine Cancer

Being able to help your dog in the unfortunate event of being diagnosed with a common canine cancer, such as mast cell tumor, melanoma or lymphoma starts with knowing about available cancer treatments for dogs and working with your veterinary specialist to identify the most appropriate approach to cancer care.

  1. My 4yr old dog has lymphoma. Diagnosed 4 months ago. He has been on prednisolone but now iv noticed his back legs are giving way occasionally. I don’t want to let him suffer but how do we know when it’s time?