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Chemotherapy and targeted cancer therapy in animals

Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with one or more anticancer medications, which are most effective in cases in which cells divide rapidly. The rapid division of cells is a hallmark of malignant tumours. When metastases are present, systemic therapy with chemotherapeutic medications and/or targeted cancer therapy is indicated in addition to surgical and/or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy can in selected cases be used alone, for example when treating lymphoma. Patients with lymphoma can be in remission for extended periods following treatment solely with chemotherapy. However, more often chemotherapy is part of multimodal therapy for cancer, in which different treatment options (e.g., surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted cancer therapy) are combined for the optimal outcome.

The word ‘chemotherapy’ itself many times raises concerns regarding side effects. Side effects do occur and are related to the effects of chemotherapeutic medications on healthy rapidly-dividing cells such as those in bone marrow and the gastrointestinal tract, in humans also in hair follicles. However, in animals, doses of chemotherapeutic medications are usually lower in comparison to those of people, also resulting in fewer and less severe side effects of the treatment. Since the side effects of the treatment can mostly be predicted, we can be well prepared and minimise them; for example, leukopenia is expected, and possible infections associated with it can be prevented by including antibiotics in the treatment protocol. Similarly, gastric tract upset and vomiting can be minimised by including antiemetic medications in the protocols. Before each chemotherapy treatment session, a thorough examination of the patient is performed, including blood examinations, to ensure that the patient is sufficiently stable to continue with chemotherapy. Good planning of the treatments is therefore crucial for avoiding most side effects of chemotherapy while benefitting from all the positive aspects of chemotherapy.

In the recent decade, targeted cancer therapy has been introduced and successfully used in veterinary medicine. These medications act by interfering with specific molecules involved in the growth, progression, and spread of cancer.

There is likely no other disease that affects human beings as deeply as cancer does. It is associated with fear, desperation, and loss. We try our best to share your concerns and feelings, while taking the best possible care of your animal, when it is affected by cancer. Helping you spend the longest possible quality time with your pet is our mission.

If you note any problems with your animal, please, always consult your veterinarian.

Article by Prof. Dr. Janoš Butinar