Treating Canine Skin Cancer Through Radiation Therapy

Early detection is the best way to keep your dog safe from canine skin cancer. Examine him once a month for tumors or other skin lumps or bumps. If your dog does get skin cancer, in some cases radiation therapy can extend his life or offer him a better quality of living.

What is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy employs high energy radiation to kill cancer growths. It targets the specific area of your dog’s body where the cancer cells are developing. In some instances radiation therapy is used alongside surgery and chemotherapy to manage or eliminate tumors.

If the canine skin cancer is terminal, radiation therapy is given to shrink tumors and make the patient more comfortable. It can also lessen your dog’s bleeding and reduce the pain and pressure from a large tumor. When tumors have not spread to other areas of your dog’s body, radiation treatments can potentially cure the cancer.

When is it Used?

Radiation therapy is normally used when an entire tumor cannot be removed through surgery. There are certain forms of skin cancer that respond well to radiation. Lymphoma is sometimes treated with both radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Other times, radiation is used to treat any microscopic tumors that remain after surgery.

Canine skin cancer tumors that are treated primarily with radiation therapy:

  • Oral tumors
  • Tumors in the nasal cavity
  • Brain tumors
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Squamous cell carcinomas
  • Malignant mesenchymal tumors
  • Bone tumors (osteosarcoma)
  • Small skin tumors

Types of Radiation Therapy

There are various forms of radiation therapy used to remedy canine skin cancer. The radioactive particles are injected into your dog’s body to target certain tissues. The most common form of therapy is administered through large devices that look like x-ray machines, but transmit beams of radiation. Some produce beams of electrons while others produce gamma waves. The beams or waves target the tumors with a burst of radiation. This beam only focuses on the tumor, and the radiation does not stay in your dog’s body.

Another treatment for canine skin cancer is done with radioactive implants called Brachytherapy. This is when your dog is given implants of iridium-192 with a large needle or surgically. It is a common process for treating canine nasal tumors.

The Treatment Process and Side Effects

Radiation therapy for canine skin cancer involves multiple treatments given anywhere from 2 to 5 weeks. Your dog will need to be put under anesthesia since he has to be kept still for this kind of therapy. In some cases, radiation therapy is given in large treatments on average once a week for several weeks.

Get as much information possible about your dog’s condition and his tumor. To establish if your dog is a candidate for radiation therapy, take note of the following considerations:

  • Observe the size, shape, and location of the tumor.
  • Find out if the tumor has metastasized.
  • Evaluate your dog’s overall health at time of treatment and his ability to withstand radiation.
  • Think about how the treatments will affect your dog’s quality of life.
  • Establish if the radiation will be performed along with chemotherapy, medical treatments or surgical procedures.
  • Prepare for the cost of canine skin cancer treatment, which ranges from several hundred dollars to over $3,000. This depends on the number of treatments, the form of radiation therapy, equipment, anesthesia/lab fees, and veterinary care.
  • Be aware of the common side effects of radiation therapy: loss of hair, blistering, redness and oozing of the skin, scratching and the possible loss of normal cells.