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Veterinary Cancer Society FAQs for Pet Owners

The following are excerpts from the Veterinary Cancer Society, a nonprofit organization that “provides educational opportunities to enhance the practice of veterinary oncology, and to inspire scientific and professional interactions by connecting those who have a shared interest in oncology.”

What are the most common types of cancers in dogs? How many dogs typically get cancer?

One in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer, and it’s the leading cause of death in pets who are beyond middle age. The most common types of cancers that veterinarians see are lymphoma (up to 24% of all new canine cancers are lymphoma); osteosarcoma (most common primary bone tumor which accounts for 85% of all skeletal tumors and is quite aggressive); mast cell tumors (most common skin tumors in dogs); oral melanomas in dogs (most commonly occur on the skin, in the mouth and on the toenails); hemangiosarcoma (malignant tumors derived from the cells lining blood); and transitional cell carcinoma in dogs (most common tumor type of the urinary system in dogs).

Do most dogs and cats with cancer end up having surgery?

Although more cancer is cured with surgery than any modality, it is very important to understand that surgery is not always the best modality (treatment) for every cancer in every individual. Some tumors may respond better with one or a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy. Some tumors may have “fingers” or “tentacles” that are microscopic. If these extensions are not removed, the tumor most likely will grow back. A tumor must ALWAYS be sent for histopathology after removal to determine the diagnosis and whether the tumor is malignant or benign. Sometimes a simple biopsy before complete removal can make a huge difference in whether or not a larger surgery is even appropriate. Also, a simple needle aspirate can make a diagnosis. Histopathology helps answer questions like: Will this grow back? Will this tumor spread? Is there a cure? What additional treatment is necessary to control regrowth or spread of the tumor? What can I do to help make my pet feel better for as long as possible? What if I do nothing?

Are there any statistics available regarding number of dogs/cats that are diagnosed with cancer each year?

It is difficult to determine the exact incidence of cancer in dogs and cats because not all pets obtain medical care or even a definitive diagnosis of cancer. It is estimated, however, that almost 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer and approximately 1 in 4 dogs will, at some stage in their life, develop cancer. Generally, there is more information known about cancer in purebred dogs and less information about cancer incidence in cats. Below are some articles on this topic.

Review article written in 2013 summarizing the literature on cancer incidence in dogs with a focus on breed-specific cancer diagnoses. http://www.hindawi.com/isrn/vs/2013/941275/

A study of causes of mortality in 2011 identified cancer as the leading cause of death in older dogs https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.0695.x

Review article written in 1996 summarizing the literature on cancer incidence in dogs. http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/2/204.long.

Are there breeds of dogs/cats that are more likely to get cancer?

This is a very good question and one to which the answer is varied. For instance, while golden retrievers seem to be overly represented in the population of pets with cancer, they are a very popular breed and hence are frequently seen by veterinarians. Other examples are bladder cancer and histiocytic sarcoma, which are more commonly seen in Scottish Terriers and Bernese Mountain dogs, respectively.

What organizations exist that actually fund research in veterinary oncology? Who can I donate to that will fund research?

There are many organizations that fund research in veterinary oncology. The largest of these are listed below and all accept donations from the public. Additionally, most if not all of the US veterinary schools with oncology programs fund veterinary cancer research. Donations directly to these programs can usually be made by visiting the websites of the individual cancer centers or oncology clinics or by contacting the school’s development officer.

ACVIM Foundation http://acvimfoundation.org/

Morris Animal Foundation http://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org

AKC Canine Health Foundation https://www.akcchf.org/

Every Cat Health Foundation https://everycat.org/

Animal Cancer Foundation https://acfoundation.org/