What is Cancer?
Cancer is the explosive growth of body cells that have been re-programed to behave badly with their neighbors. Normal cells respect their neighbors and only grow if there is room and new cells are necessary. Cancer cells grow needlessly at the expense of their neighboring cells and crowd out normal cells. Because they are abnormal, cancer cells don’t fulfill the function of normal cells, so body systems don’t work as they should. Cancer is not generic but refers to the malignant form of any type of cell. Normal body tissues and organs are made of many different types of cells. This differentiation allows cells to do the many jobs the body needs to function well. There are as many types of cancers as there are different types of body cells and cancer are named by their cell type. Each cancer type acts in a specific way and interferes with normal body function. Different types of cancers behave differently. Some grow in the same place and are a local problem as they grow. Others shed their cells in the blood stream or lymph system (a tubular system of the body that moves fat and white blood cells to different parts of the body). This metastasis allows the cells to invade other parts of the body like the lungs, liver, kidneys, brain and spinal cord. Some cancers are benign and tend to be very slow growing is one spot and don’t metastasize and are of little consequence. Skin tags or warty-looking skin growths are good examples of this type of tumor or cancer. With some exceptions, cancer is generally a problem for older dogs.
What are the symptoms of cancer?
The symptoms of cancer are dependent on the type and location of the cancer. Stomach and intestinal cancer will have symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea with or without blood. Liver, kidney, pancreas, brain, spinal cord, prostate, uterus cancer will mimic the symptoms common to those organs when they are ill by conditions other than cancer. Cancer is always on the list if an old dog’s lab work shows signs of liver, kidney, bladder or pancreatic disease. It is always on the list of old dogs with seizures or paralysis of their legs. Swollen areas of legs are suspicious for bone cancer in older dogs. And it is always on the list for older unaltered male dogs with symptoms of prostate problems.
How is cancer diagnosed?
Contrary to popular belief, routine blood work cannot diagnose cancer. Blood work tells us where the problem is and then x-rays, ultrasound, CT scans and biopsies are necessary to diagnose and identify the cancer. Even cancers that involve abnormalities in blood cells require further diagnostics like lymph node samples or bone marrow samples to determine the type of cancer. However, The Well Dog Place has partnered with the laboratory at the veterinary school at Texas A&M University to offer a blood test that screens for some common cancers.
What causes cancer?
What triggers cells to become abnormal later in life is still not known. If it were, treatment would be less drastic and hard on the body. We do know that cancer cells have different parts of their cell chromosomes turned on inappropriately. All cells have the genetic potential for rapid, controlled growth and this is important, in order, to grow from a puppy to a dog. After growth is completed these genes are turned off in most cells. Cancer cells are triggered to turn these genes back on and inappropriate growth resumes. What triggers the reactivation of these genes is controversial. Chemicals considered carcinogenic, food and water additives, cleaning chemicals, air pollutants, medications and vaccines have all been suggested. Chronic inflammation has been associated with the incidence of cancer. Because body fat produces 39 hormones that promote inflammation it is thought that it may be the primary reason for the close association of obesity and cancer in dogs.
How is cancer treated?
In western medicine cancer is treated by surgical removal of all or the major portion of the tumor or cancerous area followed-up with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other such treatments. Although these treatments have side-effects, we encourage owners to keep an open mind and consider an integrative approach, using the best of both the west and east. Why? Because our experience has demonstrated that the dogs treated with both have a better success rate. What do we mean by success? We mean a Labrador that has been in complete remission for lymphoma for over 4 years thanks to a combination of chemotherapy and alternative treatment. We mean a boxer whose mast cell tumors were surgically removed and lived 5 more years mast cell free with only alternative therapy.
Many of our clients still choose alternative therapy for cancer with fewer side effects. So, what is alternate, eastern treatment? The Well Dog approach uses diet, Chinese herbs, western herbs, essential oils and supplements that all have cancer cell killing abilities. But their main focus is to promote an environment in the body that promotes the health of normal cells but discourages the growth of abnormal cancer cells. We target the choice of our Chinese herbs for the type of cancer your dog has. There is no generic treatment for all cancers so treatment must be targeted. This targeted approach helped a cattle dog mix live 3 years with huge tumors in her lungs and on her heart that played in the yard up until the last day of her life.
There are no guaranteed results with alternative management of cancer, but we find our patients live vibrant lives despite their disease.