What is radiation therapy for dogs and cats?
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy and radiation) can be a safe and effective treatment for many types of cancer and other diseases commonly seen in dogs and cats. The goal of radiation therapy is to shrink or completely destroy cancerous tumors. Cancer cells grow and divide at a rate that is much faster than most healthy cells. Radiation therapy is targeted at the turmor aiming to damage the DNA within the cancer cells, thus interfering with cell replication and in many cases killing the cells completely.
What are the benefits of pet radiation therapy?
This veterinary cancer treatment uses ionizing radiation to damage and kill cancer cells which can help to cure or control the growth of solid cancer tumors and, in some cases, relieve pain and improve function. Veterinary radiation therapy can also be used to help reduce the risk of cancer returning following surgery or chemotherapy.
Recent advances in radiation therapy technology allow our vets to deliver much more targeted radiation to the tumor with less damage to the surrounding tissue structure.
When is radiation therapy used to treat pets?
Radiation therapy can be an effective treatment to cure or slow the growth of cancer when used alone or combined with other treatment methods such as surgery or chemotherapy. It is also a useful tool for palliative care, helping to improve the quality of life for pets with advanced cancer.
Curative radiation therapy treatments are typically given in small doses on a daily basis for 3-4 weeks. Cancers that are often treated with radiation alone include:
- Brain tumors
- Pituitary tumors
- Nasal tumors
- Some forms of lymphoma
- Tumors found on the pet's extremities
- Bone tumors
- Mast cell tumors
- Bladder tumors
Radiation treatment can also be used to kill cancer cells left behind following surgery and to help reduce the size of large tumors making surgery a more viable option.
That said, it's important to note that radiation therapy is not an effective treatment for all types of cancers. Your vet will recommend the best combination of treatments to help treat your pet's specific type of cancer.
Palliative Radiation Therapy
Veterinary radiation therapy may be provided as a way to relieve pain and other symptoms, helping to improve the pet's quality of life. Palliative radiation therapy is commonly used when the pet has advanced cancer, metastasis, or other conditions that limit life expectancy.
Palliative radiation therapy may involve radiation treatments just once a week or a number of treatments provided over the course of a few days. Palliative radiation therapy often helps to relieve pain and in some cases may even shrink the tumors somewhat while causing very few side effects.
What are the side effects of veterinary radiation therapy?
Pets being treated with palliative radiation therapy often experience little or no side effects from the treatment. That said, many pets receiving daily treatments feel some discomfort. Before the treatment begins, your vet will be able to provide you with more details about the side effects your pet is likely to experience.
When radiation therapy is being used with curative intent pets may experience acute effects during or shortly after treatment.
The side effects of your pet's radiation therapy will be related to the specific area that is being treated. If your pet is being treated for a cancer that is near the surface of their skin, your pet may develop skin irritation. Whereas a dog or cat being treated for a tumor located in their mouth may experience soreness when swallowing.
Although the side effects vary greatly based on where the tumor is located, some of the most common side effects of curative radiation therapy treatments include:
- Red, sunburn like patches of skin
- Bald patches
- Skin coloration changes
- Ulceration of the skin
- Dry skin
- Itchy patches
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth ulcers
- Eye irritation
Your vet will be able to provide advice on how best to deal with your dog or cat's radiation side effects.
Veterinary Oncology at New England Veterinary Center & Cancer Care
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.