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Oncology Services

Dr. Joanne Touhy, veterinary technician Stefanie Olsen, and feline patient

Patients of the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center visit one location for treatment — including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and advanced diagnostic imaging — of all types of veterinary cancer. When applicable, pet owners are offered opportunities to enroll their dogs or cats in clinical research trials.

Diagnostics

Diagnostics are the tests and tools we use to get more information about your pet's cancer. Diagnostics can range from comprehensive physical examinations to laboratory tests to advanced imaging. These diagnostic tests help us learn more about your pet's cancer.

Our diagnostic imaging capabilities include CT, digital radiography, and diagnostic ultrasonography. On-site laboratory services include complete blood count, chemistry and electrolytes, mini-coagulation panel, blood typing, and digital cytology.

Cancer staging

Staging describes the severity of an animal’s cancer based on the extent of the original (primary) tumor and whether or not cancer has spread in the body. Staging is important for several reasons:

  • Staging helps us plan the appropriate treatment.

  • The stage can be used to estimate your pet's prognosis.

  • Knowing the stage is important in identifying clinical trials that may be suitable for a particular patient.

  • Staging helps veterinarians and researchers exchange information about patients by providing a common terminology for evaluating the results of clinical trials and comparing the results of different therapies.

To learn more about the terminology doctors use when talking about staging, and the diagnostic tests we commonly perform when staging cancers, please see our Cancer Staging Fact Sheet.

Chemotherapy, or treatment with drugs, is intended to kill cancer or prevent it from spreading. These drugs attack growing cells by either killing them or stopping them from dividing.

Chemotherapy may be offered alone or along with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation. Drugs may be given as a pill that your pet can take at home or may be administered via an injection at our clinic.

In some cases, your pet may have to stay at a hospital for treatment. Decisions about which type of chemotherapy to use will depend on the type and stage of your pet's cancer. Our team will discuss side effects, treatment goals, timelines, and costs with you before any decisions are made.

Because chemotherapy drugs are considered an occupational hazard, we protect our personnel and our patients by administering chemotherapy safely in a purpose-built space with features like special air handling, an advanced biosafety cabinet, a three-room chemotherapy suite, and a secure hazardous waste disposal stream. The Animal Cancer Care and Research Center is a national model for the safe handling and administration of chemotherapy. 

Targeted cancer therapies are drugs or other substances that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth and progression. Because scientists often call these molecules "molecular targets," targeted cancer therapies are sometimes called "molecularly targeted drugs," "molecularly targeted therapies," or other similar names.

Targeted therapies are generally offered when we know the basic biology of certain tumors, and drugs have been developed to attack specific molecules. This type of therapy is not available for all cancers. By focusing on molecular and cellular changes that are specific to certain cancers, targeted cancer therapies may be more effective than other types of treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and less harmful to normal cells. For more information on targeted therapies, please see our Targeted Cancer Therapies Fact Sheet.

Immunotherapy treatments boost or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy may also be used to lessen certain side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments. Agents used in immunotherapy include monoclonal antibodies, growth factors, and vaccines. These agents may also have a direct antitumor effect.

Our center is also testing cutting-edge devices that may help to stimulate the immune system using ablative techniques, such as focused ultrasound waves and targeted electrical pulses. For more information, see our ongoing veterinary clinical trials.

Surgical removal is a common option for treating cancers that have not yet spread or for improving symptoms and outcomes in metastatic cancers. Surgery can be used by itself or in combination with other therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Our facility, which offers a fully equipped surgical suite for our patients, is staffed by two board-certified veterinary oncologic surgeons who have undergone additional training specifically in cancer surgery. For more complex procedures, we partner with the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg to ensure the best possible care for patients.

Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy radiation to damage the DNA of targeted cancer cells, has long been part of the standard-of-care treatment options for many forms of human cancer. Our center is the only facility in the region to offer this therapy for pets.

We deliver radiation therapy using one of the most advanced linear accelerators in the country — one of the few linear accelerators at a veterinary institution that meets criteria certifying it for human use.

Using radiation therapy, our highly skilled staff can treat cancer with precision, sparing adjacent healthy tissue. Although side effects like fatigue and localized swelling can sometimes occur, radiation therapy may be used as a preferred alternative to traditional surgery, especially in instances when surgery would be risky or ineffective.

Like other forms of radiation, stereotactic radiotherapy works by damaging the DNA of cancer cells, causing them to lose the ability to reproduce, which in turn causes tumors to shrink. Stereotactic radiotherapy takes radiation therapy to the next level, relying on detailed imaging and computerized three-dimensional treatment planning to deliver radiation with extreme accuracy.

Many of the cancers we study have few effective therapies, and certain animals don't respond well to existing therapies. Through our research, we aim to discover new and better methods of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment that will improve the quality of life for current and future patients.

Our oncology clinical trials offer hope to enrolled pets, while also providing pioneering knowledge that may benefit future pets.