What to Expect at Your Pet’s Cancer Consult and Exam

Joanne Lynn Intile, DVM, MS, DACVIM
September 23, 2015
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Receiving a diagnosis of cancer in your pet is devastating. Amidst the anxiety and uncertainty, it can be difficult to process whether pursuing a consultation with a veterinary oncologist is the right choice.

Knowing what to expect from your appointment with a specialist ahead of time could help alleviate a portion of your fears and ensure that your overall experience is worthwhile.

Your oncologist’s office will request your pet’s records be sent prior to your appointment so they can be reviewed for content. This includes copies of lab work, aspirates, biopsies, or imaging tests. Ensuring the complete medical history is available ahead of time helps streamline the appointment as well as eliminates the need to repeat tests.

When you arrive for your appointment, you will be greeted first by a veterinary technician or assistant who will take you into an exam room. They will obtain your pet’s vital signs and ask questions about their medical history, current medications, and clinical signs.

Your pet may be briefly taken to another area of the hospital, where the oncologist will perform a thorough physical exam. Alternatively, the exam may be performed in the same room as the consultation. Owners may be confused or nervous when their pet is whisked away only a few minutes after arriving at the hospital. It’s normal to wonder what goes on “behind the scenes” and why you can’t be with your pet.

The area where this type of exam occurs has additional pieces of equipment that make it superior to the smaller consultation rooms where the appointment occurs. The larger areas often have specialized computers where data is entered as the exam is being performed. Additionally, many pets are calmer when away from their owners, which makes it easier to perform the exam and ensure nothing is overlooked, as well as helping to reduce their stress levels. 

Once the exam is completed, the oncologist will talk to you about your pet’s diagnosis and make recommendations for further testing and treatment options. If you are prepared to move forward, steps can often be initiated that same day. If you need time to process the information before making decisions, your oncologist will support you as well.

There are some simple steps pet owners can take to help streamline their appointment with a veterinary oncologist. The most important part is not to panic.

If timing permits, call the oncologist’s office a few days before the appointment to make sure your pet’s records have arrived. If they have not arrived, consider calling your primary veterinarian and asking directly that the information be transmitted. Owners are often more effective at this task than the specialist’s office.

Bring your pet to the appointment (unless otherwise specified). It may seem intuitive, but there are times where owners are confused or assume the consultation is restricted to information only and leave their pets at home. The ability for your oncologist to examine your pet is a crucial part of the experience.

Ask if your pet should be fasted (food withheld) prior to the appointment. In many cases, if this is recommended, you will be informed ahead of time. But sometimes this small detail can slip through the cracks and could result in a delay of scheduling certain tests (e.g., if a sedation or general anesthesia is required and your pet has eaten that day, testing will need to be postponed.)

Write down your questions ahead of time. If you are having trouble thinking of things to ask, talk with your primary veterinarian and have him or her outline the kinds of questions you should be thinking about.

Talk about your concerns. If they are related to your pet’s quality of life, stress level, or even more personal issues, such as finances or your own health issues, feel free to voice your worries if you are comfortable doing so. Your oncologist will work with you and determine the best plan of action.

Don’t be afraid to ask if you can write things down. You will be inundated with information and statistics, and the heightened emotions you possess following your pet’s diagnosis can further confuse things. Writing down a few key points might prove invaluable to understanding the bigger picture.

Your appointment may not proceed exactly as I’ve outlined, but many of the points I’ve discussed are likely to be addressed at some point in the process.

The most important part is that you’ve committed to meeting with the person possessing the greatest experience and training in your pet’s diagnosis.

No matter your decision, the remainder will fall into place and the appreciation you will have after hearing accurate information will supersede your apprehensions by a wide margin.

Dr. Joanne Intile

Image: Thinkstock