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Cancer in Pets Similar to Human Disease

posted March 15th, 2011 by
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BY DERINDA D. BLAKENEY

KIMBERLY REEDS, DvM, recently joined Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences as an assistant professor of oncology. She works at the Boren Veterinary Medical Hospital treating dogs and cats with cancer.

“Dogs and cats get cancers comparable to the ones humans get,” explains Reeds. “The types of cancer are very similar to those diagnosed in humans and similar cancers appear in both small animal species such as lymphoma and skin tumors. The most common cancers we treat are lymphoma and mast cell tumors in dogs.”

While attending OSU’s veterinary college, Reeds’ interest in oncology was sparked one summer working on a research project.

Dr. Kimberly Reeds examines Sahara as registered veterinary technician, Lisa Gallery, holds the dog.

“I liked being able to offer help to people who didn’t think any help was available for their pet,” she says. “Cancer is a devastating diagnosis. I want people to understand that usually there is something we can do to extend the patient’s life or at least make it better. A cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. In most cases there is still hope.”

She recommends a veterinary examination when pet owners notice sudden changes in behavior or appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, the presence of a mass or a swelling that doesn’t go away or persistent pain. However, not all of these symptoms lead to a cancer diagnosis.

In animals, the protocol for cancer treatment differs from humans.

“The first option in general for animals is surgery to remove the cancer followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation, except for lymphoma. There is usually no surgical option for lymphoma so it’s straight to chemotherapy treatment, which varies in length of time for treatment.”

Depending on the diagnosis, chemotherapy may last 3-6 months or some longer-term chemo treatments may be for an indefinite time, with the owner giving the pet a pill daily.

“The side effects vary depending on the drug itself, the drug dose and the intensity of the drug protocol. Some animals experience gastro intestinal upset, but in general, dogs and cats actually handle chemotherapy pretty well.

They don’t experience the expectation that it will cure them. Animals also do not lose their hair during treatment like most people do. It’s a rare occurrence when that happens.”

OSU’s veterinary hospital offers surgical and medical oncology services.

“We are approved to use the new melanoma vaccine, which is not available in many private practices. We maintain an inventory of most of the common chemotherapy drugs as well as the new anti-cancer drug, Palladia, which is used to treat mast cell tumors in dogs.”

She notes that access to a wide variety of specialists provides for consulting regarding “each other’s cases often as a team of doctors to try to come up with the best plan to obtain the best possible outcome for our patients.”

“Our focus is on extending the patient’s life while maintaining a good quality of life.” Reeds recalls a dog she treated during her oncology residency.

“I treated a chocolate female lab owned by the nicest older gentleman. The dog had a thyroid tumor in her neck. Whenever he brought her in for treatments as he would see me walk toward them, he would lean down and say to the dog, ‘Look, here comes your BFF (Best Friend Forever), Dr. Reeds.’ I smile whenever I think of that and know I made a difference in her life and her owner’s life. I gave them quality time and hope for one more good day and that is priceless.”

Following graduation from OSU’s veterinary college, she practiced for a year in Texas, then returned to OSU for advanced study of tumors. She completed a one-year Radiation Therapy Internship at Purdue University and a three-year Residency in Oncology at Kansas State University before joining OSU’s faculty. She is currently completing an M.S. degree in Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Kansas State University and the requirements for board certification as a veterinary oncologist.

For Information:
Dr. Kimberly Reeds – (405) 744-7000