Radiation therapy uses ionizing, or high energy, x-rays to target and kill cancer cells. By destroying their ability to divide, radiation prevents the tumor cells from continuing to grow. In some cases, these cells may actually shrink. A focused beam of radiation is aimed directly at the area where the tumor is located, thereby minimizing the effects on the surrounding normal cells. The standard device for administering radiation therapy is called a linear accelerator or LINAC.
Several types of cancer have responded favorably to radiation therapy, including brain, nasal and oral tumors. Radiation is also commonly used for cancers of the extremities or body (such as osteosarcoma) and has resulted in many positive outcomes. Hospital stays are minimized as well.
Radiation therapy can be classified as either curative, with the aim of increasing survival time and offering a better quality of life (or in some cases, remission), or palliative, which is intended to reduce pain and make the pet as comfortable as possible in cases where the cancer has progressed beyond curative treatment. Radiation therapy is used alone or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy and may be administered before, after, or concurrent with these other treatments. In some instances, radiation destroys cancerous cells that could not be removed by surgery alone, or is effective at treating cells that have proven resistant to chemotherapy.
What to Expect
One of our board-certified oncology specialists will work closely with your primary veterinarian to determine if radiation therapy would be beneficial for your pet. If so, our specialist will develop a treatment plan based on factors such as type of cancer, size and location of the tumor, and the general health of your pet. We will meet with you to review specifics of the plan, discuss both the benefits and risks associated with the treatment and potential side effects.
The side effects of radiation vary from patient to patient but are typically mild. They may include red or moist skin, as well as hair loss, in the region being treated. Pets experiencing these side effects might try to scratch at the area, but it is not advisable. Your primary veterinarian can help you manage this problem. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea are not usual outcomes of radiation therapy; however, some pets can still experience weight loss based on the treatment protocol that requires them to skip certain meals. All of these issues are likely to resolve within a week or two after therapy is completed.
The radiation oncologist at VSH is Dr. David Ruslander. Prior to starting radiation therapy you will meet with him or one of the Medical Oncologists to discuss the benefits and side effects of radiation therapy for your pet. Dr. Ruslander oversees treatment of all pets undergoing radiation therapy. Nursing technicians trained in radiation therapy treatments assist Dr. Ruslander. They will be involved in assisting with the daily treatment of your pet and with daily communications and updates regarding the status of your pet.