Pet Corner

When Your Pet has Cancer

| November/December 2004

I’ll never forget John Wayne’s response as he walked away from the hospital where he’d just received treatment for cancer. He waved his arm, grinned broadly and proclaimed for the world to hear: “Well, I guess I’ve whupped the big C.” For many of us, cancer doesn’t present much occasion to celebrate. It can call up deep emotions, and the mere mention of cancer, whether it affects us, our loved ones or our pets, often can send people into a tailspin of fear and depression.

For centuries, doctors have tried to heal cancer with everything from arsenic and vinegar to bleeding and leeches to our present-day conventional methods of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Although there is still no cure, there are some reasons to be optimistic. As we learn more and more about the causes of cancer, our therapies continue to improve. Many of the more progressive cancer treatments incorporate methods and medicines from both conventional and alternative healing methods. Given their effectiveness and relative gentleness, herbal medicines can be used as an important adjunct to any cancer treatment protocol.

Common Cancers

Cancer can occur in any tissue or cell type. However, cutaneous (skin) tumors are the most frequently diagnosed in most domestic animals because they can be identified easily and the constant exposure of the skin to the external environment predisposes this organ to tumor transformation. Lymphoma (tumor of the lymph cells) is the most frequently diagnosed malignancy of cats; this disease is often the result of infection by the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). Malignant lymphoma is also the most common neoplasm of the dog’s blood cells, with a reported incidence of 24 in 100,000.

Cancer Cure Cautions

When dealing with a powerfully emotional issue such as cancer, it is important to understand that there are no panaceas. Nothing will cure every cancer every time, and in all likelihood, there never will be a “miracle cure” with this capability. So if someone offers you a guaranteed cure, be more than a little skeptical.

Also realize that medicine, like everything else, is used according to current fashion trends. There was a time when it was fashionable to treat almost everything with leeches or bloodletting, and in some cultures it is still a very fashionable health cure to take a daily drink of one’s own urine. Herbal medicines are not immune to fashion, and whenever I see a particular herb being touted heavily, I back off its use until it has had more time to prove itself.

Every medical procedure and every medical agent carries a risk. And, every patient is an individual who will respond to medical treatments in his or her own manner. If the remedy is generally effective, many (but not all) patients likely will be helped to some degree, a few will have adverse reactions, and a certain number of patients miraculously will experience a complete recovery. It is impossible to predetermine how a particular animal will respond to any medicine — especially when dealing with something as invasive and life-threatening as cancer — and it is difficult to determine what treatment(s) will be most effective for any one case.

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