Say What? Navigating Pet Cancer Terminology
Like any field of study or profession, cancer in pets comes with its own set of jargon that might be intimidating to an outside party. Our specialty – oncology – involves the study and treatment of cancer. At Veterinary Oncology Services and Research Center we live in this world day to day, so sometimes we forget that not everyone else does, or know what all the jargon means.
When your pet has cancer, it can be overwhelming enough without having to learn a whole new vocabulary. However, understanding some basic pet cancer terminology can be extremely helpful for pet owners as we navigate this diagnosis as a team.
The Types of Pet Cancer
Perhaps the most important of understanding pet cancer terminology is getting a grasp on exactly what your pet patient is battling.
When we identify neoplasia (the formation or presence of a new, abnormal growth of tissue) in our patients, we often are able to classify it into a certain type of cancer through testing. This can have a great impact on the course of treatment and associated prognosis.
In general pet cancer may be divided into two main types: benign tumors and malignant.
Benign tumors are abnormal growths that are non-aggressive. They do not invade local tissues or spread throughout the body. They may locally affect function but are not considered cancerous.
Malignant tumors are formed by abnormal cell growth that invades and destroys local tissues, acting in a very aggressive manner. Malignant cells may spread throughout the body as well. This is what we typically refer to as cancer.
Pet cancers can be classified beyond being benign and malignant as well. They are typically categorized by the body tissue from which they originate. Any tissue can become cancerous, however some malignancies are more common than others. Some of the more frequent diagnoses we deal with include:
- Carcinoma – a tumor from the lining cells of organs or glands in the body
- Leukemia – cancer of the white blood cells, originating in the bone marrow
- Lymphoma – cancer of the lymph nodes
- Mast cell tumor – a tumor of the cells in the skin that mediate allergic reactions
- Melanoma – a cancer of the pigmented cells of the body
- Osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer
- Sarcoma – tumor from the body tissues such as bone, fat, cartilage, muscle, blood, etc.
Of course there are many types of cancer and we are always available to sit down a thoroughly discuss the specifics of your pet’s diagnosis with you.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The path to diagnosing and treating cancer can be one filled with new pet cancer terminology as well. Getting an accurate diagnosis can be vital in opening up treatment options, and so we need to have you as your pet’s caretaker on board during this process.
Pet cancer diagnosis often includes:
Biopsy — We often first need to identify to enemy we are battling. Biopsy refers to the sampling of an abnormal tissue for further evaluation. This may be an excisional biopsy in which the entire piece of tissue is retrieved surgically, an incisional biopsy during which just a piece of tissue is obtained surgically, an endoscopic biopsy during which the tissue is sampled with an endoscope, or a fine needle aspirate in which cells are retrieved via a needle. The type of biopsy obtained largely depends on the location and nature of the tumor being investigated.
Staging — Staging is the process during which we further investigate the extent and nature of the identified cancer. Further diagnostics including radiographs, ultrasound, blood testing, and lymph node samples can help us provide an accurate prognosis and outline the best treatment plan for your pet.
When it comes to treating pet cancer, there are a wealth of words to know as well. Depending on your pet’s diagnosis, we may utilize a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy protocols to achieve the best outcome. Complementary therapies and therapies specific to certain diagnoses are often valuable as well. Each cancer treatment protocol for each individual patient is different.
Pet Cancer Terminology Caretakers Need to Know
When a pet is in our care for cancer treatment, it is important that you know how to communicate with us. We want to know how your pet is doing, and it is helpful if you get to know some basic pet cancer terminology. Words that you should be familiar with include:
- Anorexia – loss of appetite
- Cachexia – extreme weight loss secondary to cancer
- Desquamation – changes to the skin after radiation therapy, similar to sunburn
- Edema – accumulation of fluid, usually in dependant areas such as the underbelly or limbs
- Neutropenia – lowered white blood cell count, sometimes as a side effect of chemotherapy
- Palliative – treatments or therapies aimed at maintaining quality of life and relieving symptoms associated with cancer or its treatment
- Remission – the disappearance of any detectable cancer within the body
By being able talk a little bit of the talk, we can better communicate about your pet’s overall well-being.
Of course if we are ever speaking in terms you don’t understand, never hesitate to stop us and ask. It is important that we are all on the same page when it comes to your pet’s care, and we are happy to take the time to be sure that you know what we are saying.