This is part of a continuing series based on Petplan's statistics about the most common pet insurance claim by month of the year.
This month the focus is on cancer which is one of the most common diagnoses in middle-aged to older pets. The diagnosis of cancer often brings up emotions of fear and dread whether in people or their pets.
As you know, the earlier cancer is diagnosed, usually the better the prognosis. I find that there are some pet owners who are very perceptive of subtle changes in their pet's routines and know when things just "aren't right." They often present their pet for examination and, of course, the pet acts completely normal when he or she walks in the front door of the hospital. I've learned to pay attention to my client because they know their pet much better than I do and I only see what the pet is like in my office, not what is going on at home.
Just as people with cancer often ignore the symptoms until they are advanced and it is too late, pet owners sometimes do likewise. Therefore, if you see or feel a lump or bump on your pet, let your veterinarian check it early on. I've seen softball sized mammary tumors that have been slowing getting larger and larger over months before the client decides to have it checked, and often by that time, the tumor has spread to other organs and there isn't much I can do to help save the pet.
I've examined dogs for their annual checkup and found multiple enlarged lymph nodes when the client was totally unaware. Therefore regular checkups are important especially for pets over 7 years old. For pets this age, most veterinarians will want to see your pet every 6 months. At our hospital, we recommend a "senior exam" every 6 months for pets 7 years of age and older and it includes an "early detection profile" at a discount and the option for chest and abdominal x-rays at a discount.
Cancer can affect one or more internal organs and that's when imaging such as x-rays, ultrasound or CT scans are necessary to see the problem. Ultimately, cancer is usually diagnosed by biopsy and sometimes supporting evidence of abnormal blood tests.
Sometimes cancer is curable - especially if caught early, but often it is a chronic disease that is managed by a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and some new innovative treatments like antibody therapy, immunotherapy, vaccines, cyberknife therapy, etc.
The goal is to provide a symptom-free, good quality of life for as long as possible. With the new therapies being used to treat cancer, this is becoming more and more achievable.
I diagnosed a Lab with oral melanoma that generally has a poor prognosis and often spreads early to lymph nodes, lungs or other organs. Generally, prognosis for survival is months. The owner refused surgery to remove the tumor which would have required removing part of the mandible (jaw). Instead, the dog was treated with a combination of radiation, melanoma vaccine, and chemotherapy. The cancer did eventually spread to the lungs, but the dog had a great quality of life up until the very end 18 months later.
As you can imagine, these therapies are often expensive and costs thousands of dollars. Pet insurance will usually cover cancer unless it is pre-existing when the policy is issued. I want to share two stories about pets who benefited from cyberknife therapy in the treatment of their pet's cancer.
The following audio clip is an interview I did with Dr. Darlene Cook, a veterinarian, whose dog was diagnosed with cancer who shares her experience with cyberknife therapy as it became the only option for radiation to treat her dog.
Leave comments about your experience with cancer treatment in your pet, especially if pet insurance was helpful in paying for the treatment.