Treating Cancer in Dogs With Radiation vs. Chemotherapy

If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, you may be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of radiation and chemotherapy. Some cancers can be surgically removed but for those that cannot, radiation or chemotherapy can offer pain relief, slow cancer progression and in some cases destroy or shrink the cancer to a size that will allow for surgery. Because both methods have possible side effects, many veterinarians prescribe these treatments in small doses and in combination with other medications and therapies.

Radiation Treatment

Radiation targets a specific area and is often recommended for tumors that have not metastasized. Many canine tumors are sensitive to radiation and it is possible to cure certain types of cancer using this method. Dogs with brain, oral, small nasal and skin tumors are good candidates for radiation. Even if a tumor cannot be completely removed, radiation can ease pain, especially with very painful cancers such as bone cancer. Although radiation can be effective, this treatment is only available at specialized medical centers and anesthesia is necessary to prevent the dog from moving.

Chemotherapy Treatment

Chemotherapy is often prescribed for cancers that have spread to several areas of the body. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells while radiation uses specially calibrated X-rays to target cancer tissues. Chemotherapy is different from radiation in that it typically is not a course for curing cancer. Most canine cancers are only moderately sensitive to chemotherapy and it generally does not extend lifespan. It can however, give many dogs a period of remission while controlling the further spread of cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can often be administered at a regular veterinary office and anesthesia is not required.

Possible Side Effects of Radiation and Chemotherapy

Dogs that receive higher doses of either radiation or chemotherapy are more likely to endure some side effects. Possible side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy are nausea, bleeding problems and lowered immunity. Side effects from radiation often pertain to the treatment site and may include damage to healthy tissues and skin problems.

Early Versus Late Stage Diagnosis

The effectiveness of any treatment depends on early diagnosis. Tumors discovered early are more likely to be resolved than those found in and advanced state. Small cancers are generally easier to treat and in many cases, can be surgically removed. The complete removal of cancer is ideal but may not be possible in the later stages of the disease. Even when the cancer can't be completely cured, radiation and chemotherapy are options that can bring relief and improve a dog's quality of life.