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Features January 2014 Issue

If Your Dog Does Get Cancer, Should You See a Specialist?

Your dog’s veterinarian is her PCP — her primary care practitioner. He or she can handle all the routine exams, shots, and illnesses of her life. But cancer is not routine. Should your dog’s usual vet be the one to treat her?

It depends. Some primary care veterinarians feel quite comfortable handling certain types of cancer treatment. But sometimes a referral might be made to a veterinary oncologist. Veterinarians who specialize in diagnosing and treating cancer have advanced training in dealing with malignant tumors. They are board-certified, meaning they have gone through rigorous hands-on training and passed rigorous exams.

A board-certified veterinary oncologist may also have equipment not found in your regular vet’s office. For instance, while some veterinarians are equipped to administer chemotherapy, radiation therapy is pretty much limited to veterinary cancer centers. That’s a key point. Radiation may be recommended before a bout of chemotherapy, after it, or instead of it, depending on the type and location of the cancer. It’s also used in combination with targeted molecular therapies.

Dogs whose families live in or near urban centers won’t have trouble getting to a veterinary oncologist’s office. But in rural areas, it can mean a long drive.

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