In my role as a veterinary hospice and in-home euthanasia provider, I treat a lot of pets with cancer. Many of their owners are interested in complementary therapies that will improve their "fur kids" quality of life but that don’t involve a lot of back and forth to the veterinary clinic and are relatively safe and inexpensive. To improve my offerings in this area, I attended two lectures given by Dr. Robert Silver at the 2012 Wild West Veterinary Convention. Here’s some of what he had to say.
Cancer accounts for nearly 50% of pet deaths each year. Pet cancer rates are comparable to human cancer rates. (1)
Integrative Oncology is the use of scientifically-proven complementary therapies alongside conventional medical and surgical treatments for cancer. Integrative care usually involves developing a team approach with multiple practitioners.
A recent survey of veterinary cancer patients found that 76% of 254 pets were receiving alternative therapies. Nutritional therapies were being used by 40% of these patients, followed by prayer (38%), diet (35%), and vitamins (30%). Perhaps the most important statistic from this survey though was that 65% of these clients were not telling their veterinarians about their use of these therapies. (3)
Dr. Silver then went on to talk about specific therapeutic options, starting with those traditionally offered by most veterinary practitioners.
The benefits of surgery should not be overlooked. He said, "When performed early enough in the course of the disease and when the surgical excision is aggressive enough, oncologic surgery can be the most holistic way to treat cancer with the greatest chance of permanent cure and is associated with the least amount of cancer suffering."
Chemotherapy can also be very helpful with some types of cancer, but owners are often worried about making their pets feel rotten while they undergo the treatments. Veterinary chemotherapy protocols are different than those used in human medicine. We are generally not going for a "cure" with our patients, but are trying to extend life while maintaining its quality. That said, adverse effects do happen, and Dr. Silver brought up the option of giving small daily doses of chemotherapeutic medicines (called metronomic chemotherapy) to reduce the growth of cancer while lessening the chances of side effects.
In some cases, radiation therapy can be used to eradicate cancer cells and reduce pain associated with tumor growth, but radiation does adversely affect healthy tissues that it comes in contact with. Trauma to local tissues can be treated with pain relievers and topical salves. When mucous membranes are affected, Dr. Silver recommends using the amino acid glutamine either topically after tissue injury has occurred and/or orally to reduce the chances that "mucositis" will develop.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Sources and References
Integrative Oncology: Parts One and Two. Robert J. Silver DVM, MS, CVA. Wild West Veterinary Conference. Reno, NV. October 17-20, 2012.
1. Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center: About Cancer. www.csuanimalcancercenter.org 8/2008.
3. Lana SE, Logan LR, Crump KA, Graham JT, Robinson NG. The use of complementary and alternative therapies in dogs and cats with cancer. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2006 Sep=Oct;42(5):361-5.