The Integrative Approach to Canine Cancer Treatment

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Published: December 18, 2015
The Integrative Approach to Canine Cancer Treatment

I take an integrative approach to my dog Cardiff’s health care during both bouts of sickness and for his general wellness. In 2007, Cardiff’s first of four episodes (so far) of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA) prompted me to investigate deeper into how to manage his condition besides solely using immunosuppressive drugs. 

That’s where whole-foods diet, nutraceuticals (supplements), herbs, acupuncture, and other treatments come into play to help support his whole-body health and manage the side effects resulting from the medications that suppress his immune system, one of which is the destruction of red blood cells.

Being well-versed on the integrative approach for Cardiff’s immune mediated disease, I am also applying it to his treatment for T-Cell Lymphoma (white blood cell cancer).

What is the Integrative Approach?

The integrative approach means that more than one style of practicing veterinary medicine is used in formulating a treatment plan. As a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA), I’m trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM). So, I apply the Chinese medicine perspective involving the Eight Principles: Excess, Deficiency, Interior, Exterior, Hot, Cold, Yin, and Yang.

Before pursuing my Chinese medicine training in 2005, I had been practicing conventional veterinary medicine for six years. As a result of four years of working as a veterinary technician during my college days, four years of veterinary school, and six years of clinical practice experience, I can’t completely exclude my conventional training in favor of exclusively pursuing the TCVM approach. However, I learned that when I integrate TCVM into the conventional approach to veterinary medicine, I’m better able to understand the origin of my patients’ ailments and have more available treatment options for them.

How Does the TCVM Perspective Apply to Cancer?

Cancer is a disease where cells have abnormal or damaged DNA that prevents the cells from being able to turn off their replication and achieve apoptosis (cell death). As a result, cancer cells repeatedly divide to form tumors.

Tumors can be singular or multiple. As tumors grow and spread (metastasize) they cause damage to surrounding tissues, create inflammation, suppress the normal immune system response, and generally wreak havoc on the body. Inflammation creates heat, which can eventually lead to clinical signs of redness, warmth or pain to the touch on the affected site, cool-seeking behavior, increased water consumption, lethargy, decreased appetite, and more.

According to TCVM theory, cancer is a disease of excess (cells dividing rapidly) and yang (masculine, uplifting energy), which creates heat (inflammation), which occurs from an internal source (abnormal cellular genetic material). 

Besides destroying or removing cancer cells from the body to achieve a state of remission (no detectable cancer cells), the TCVM perspective of treatment aims to reduce inflammation, clear heat, promote quieting/calming (Yin) energy, keep the body well-hydrated, support the immune system, and more.

How Do I Use the Integrative Approach to Treat Cardiff’s Cancer?

The integrative approach has been valuable in helping to manage Cardiff’s cancer and the potential side effects associated with cancer treatment.

The conventional approach involves surgery and chemotherapy. Surgery has twice removed Cardiff’s intestinal tumor and essentially put him into remission. Chemotherapy is being used to kill cancer cells that can form new tumors. Both surgery and chemotherapy can create inflammation, damage body tissues, cause immunosuppression, increase the chance for secondary infection, place excess burden on the body’s detoxifying organs (liver, kidneys, spleen, intestines, lymph vessels and nodes, etc.), and more. 

The bone marrow and digestive tract are two locations that are especially sensitive to chemotherapeutics. Bone marrow can become suppressed, which reduces normal red and white blood cell and platelet production. Anemia (low red blood cell numbers), immune system suppression (low white blood cell counts or altered function), and blood clotting abnormalities (low platelet count or abnormal function) will potentially ensue. Digestive tract signs of vomit, diarrhea, and decreased appetite can also develop.

Fortunately, not all pets suffer from these side effects. Chemotherapy protocols can be tailored to meet a patient’s needs, and nutraceuticals and medications can be given to help reduce adverse responses.

My TCVM approach to Cardiff’s cancer involves the integration of whole food diets and treats, nutraceuticals (supplements), herbs, acupuncture, and other treatments to complement surgery and chemotherapy. As the treatments Cardiff receives and the reasons behind their selections are quite lengthy, I’m going to cover such aspects in the next article.

Cardiff rests after treatment

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

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