Unleashing Compassion: How Veterinary Oncologists Guide Your Pet's Cancer Journey

March 21, 2024
A veterinary oncologist giving a kiss to french bull dog

In veterinary medicine, certain specialists stand out for their expertise in dealing with a particularly challenging aspect of pet health: cancer. These specialists are called veterinary oncologists, and they are dedicated professionals who can help you navigate getting your pet the best care when they are diagnosed with cancer.

Who are Veterinary Oncologists?

Veterinary oncologists are the unsung heroes of the veterinary world. They dedicate their careers to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancer in animals. These specialized veterinarians possess a unique blend of expertise in both oncology (the study and treatment of cancer) and veterinary medicine, allowing them to navigate the complexities of cancer care in our beloved pets.

At their core, veterinary oncologists are veterinarians who have pursued advanced training and education in the field of oncology. After completing veterinary school, these dedicated professionals undergo additional years of specialized training through internships, residencies, and sometimes fellowships in veterinary oncology. This extra training equips them with the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to tackle the myriad challenges posed by cancer in animals.1, 3

Unlike a general practice veterinarian who will see a wide range of medical conditions as pets come in for their regular checkups, veterinary oncologists focus exclusively on cancer care. They have a deep understanding of the various types of cancer that can affect animals; anything from common tumors to more rare and complex cancers. 

One of the main responsibilities of veterinary oncologists is to evaluate and communicate cancer in animals. This process often begins with a thorough physical examination and medical history review, followed by diagnostic tests such as blood work, imaging studies (such as X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans), and sometimes specialized procedures like biopsies. Veterinary oncologists have an acute understanding of the various types of cancer that can affect animals, allowing them to accurately diagnose and stage the disease.2

Once a diagnosis is made, veterinary oncologists work closely with pet owners to develop individualized treatment plans tailored to each patient's unique needs. These treatment plans may include a combination of methods such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and palliative care, depending on factors such as the type and stage of cancer, the pet's overall health, and the owner's preferences and resources.2 

Throughout the course of treatment, veterinary oncologists play a central role in monitoring patients closely and adjusting therapy as needed based on the pet's response and any side effects experienced. They collaborate closely with other members of the veterinary oncology team, including veterinary technicians, radiation therapists, and surgical specialists, to ensure coordinated and comprehensive care.

In addition to providing cutting-edge medical care, veterinary oncologists also play a crucial role in supporting pet owners throughout their pet's cancer journey. They understand the emotional toll that a cancer diagnosis can take on pet owners and strive to provide compassionate guidance, support, and education every step of the way. Whether discussing treatment options, managing side effects during treatment, or navigating end-of-life care decisions, veterinary oncologists are there to empower pet owners to make informed decisions that align with their pet's best interests and quality of life.2

Aside from their hands-on help for individual patients, veterinary oncologists also contribute to the advancement of cancer research and education in veterinary medicine. They participate in clinical trials, publish scientific papers, and collaborate with colleagues across disciplines to improve our understanding of cancer biology, develop new treatment strategies, and enhance the quality of care for animals with cancer.

In essence, veterinary oncologists are compassionate caregivers, skilled clinicians, and dedicated advocates for both their animal patients and their human companions. Their unwavering commitment to excellence in cancer care ensures that pets facing a cancer diagnosis receive the highest standard of care and support, helping to enhance your pet’s quality of life and strengthen the bond between you and your beloved furry friend. 

Types of Veterinary Oncologists

There are a few main categories of oncologists: Medical, Radiation, and Surgical. 

Medical oncologists evaluate the pet to determine the extent of the disease and help formulate the best treatment plan. They specialize in administering chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other systemic treatments to combat cancer in animals. Radiation oncologists focus on using radiation therapy to target and destroy cancerous cells. And surgical oncologists specialize in performing surgeries to remove tumors and cancerous growths from animals.1

What Are Veterinary Medical Oncologists?

Medical oncologists are usually the first specialists to see pets after they have been diagnosed with cancer. Medical oncologists help to explain the cancer to pet owners and further evaluate pets for additional signs of disease. They then play a crucial role in the treatment of cancer in animals. They specialize in the use of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and other systemic treatments to combat cancer.3 

Medical oncologists work closely with pet owners to develop personalized treatment plans tailored to each patient's specific type of cancer, stage of disease, and overall health. They monitor patients closely throughout treatment, adjusting the approach to their treatment as needed based on response and managing any side effects to ensure the best possible outcome and quality of life for their animal patients.4

What Are Veterinary Radiation Oncologists?

Radiation oncologists are vital members of the veterinary oncology team, focusing on utilizing radiation therapy to target and eradicate cancerous cells in animals. Their expertise lies in precisely delivering radiation to the tumor site while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues. 

Radiation oncologists work closely with other specialists to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to each patient, often combining radiation therapy with other modalities such as surgery or chemotherapy for optimal outcomes. Throughout treatment, they carefully monitor the pet's response and adjust the radiation dosage and treatment schedule as necessary to ensure effectiveness and minimize side effects, ultimately aiming to improve the pet's quality of life and prognosis.5

What are Veterinary Surgical Oncologists?

Surgical oncologists are skilled veterinarians who specialize in performing surgeries to remove tumors and cancerous growths from animals. Their expertise encompasses a wide range of surgical techniques, from simple tumor excisions to complex reconstructive procedures. These are veterinary surgeons who have done even further advanced training in a fellowship to become surgical oncologists.

Surgical oncologists are another integral part of the  oncology team. It is important to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to each patient, when a patient has a cancer that can be treated by removing tumors or affected limbs with surgery it’s important to have a great surgical oncologist available to provide that as a primary or adjunctive therapy. Throughout the surgical process, they prioritize meticulous surgical technique and post-operative care to optimize outcomes and improve the pet's quality of life.6

What Do Veterinary Oncologists Do For Your Pet?

When your beloved pet receives a cancer diagnosis, your veterinary oncologist becomes your guiding light through the challenging journey ahead. With their expertise, they accurately diagnose and stage the disease, providing clarity in uncertain times.

Working closely with you, your oncologist crafts a personalized treatment plan tailored to your pet's unique needs. They explain each step of the process, offering reassurance and support as you navigate this daunting path together.

Throughout treatment, your veterinary oncologist monitors your pet's progress with diligence, adjusting the plan as needed to ensure the best possible outcome. Their dedication is unwavering, providing comfort during the ups and downs of treatment.

But it's not just about medical care; your oncologist understands the emotional toll of cancer on both you and your pet. They offer a compassionate ear, addressing your concerns and providing guidance every step of the way.

Together, you and your veterinary oncologist become a team, united in the fight against cancer. Their commitment to your pet's well-being shines through in every interaction, offering hope and healing during a challenging time.

How To Find A Veterinary Oncologist

Finding the right oncologist for you and your pet’s needs isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. What you feel comfortable with is important for you and your pet, even in times when it may feel like time is short. You can search for a veterinary oncologist near you here.

It’s important to consider what you need out of your oncologist. Of course, you’ll be looking for a specialist who can help with your pet’s individual needs but there are more aspects of your pet’s treatment you’ll want to consider when finding the right fit for your situation. 

You’ll have to think about how far you’re comfortable driving; where do you and your pet feel the most comfortable—you wouldn’t want to be going to a vet’s office regularly for cancer treatments if your pet feels stressed or unsafe there. Do you feel confident that you can ask questions of the oncologist until you get an answer? Some pet parents may want to understand more of what their pets are going through, and some may want to give more trust to the vet to guide them on the right path. Is this a practice that is in your budget? Do they offer any payment assistance plans or take your pet insurance if you have it? 

Ultimately, the relationship with your veterinary team is like any other relationship and needs to be founded on trust. It is important to have trust and patience with one another and remember we are all in this fight against cancer together!

In this post, we give more instructions on what to look for in the right oncologist for you and where to start looking. 

Find out more about how ImpriMed can help your oncologist provide the best treatment for your pet.

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