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In this easy-to-use guide, Dr. Shawn Messonnier offers the latest research on both treating new diagnoses of cancer and preventing the disease before it takes the life of a beloved family pet. He details a program that includes complementary therapies such as antioxidants, herbal preparations, homeopathic remedies, raw food, glandular supplements, and acupuncture. He stresses that while no one therapy is right for every pet, boosting the immune system is an excellent complement to conventional therapies like ...
In this easy-to-use guide, Dr. Shawn Messonnier offers the latest research on both treating new diagnoses of cancer and preventing the disease before it takes the life of a beloved family pet. He details a program that includes complementary therapies such as antioxidants, herbal preparations, homeopathic remedies, raw food, glandular supplements, and acupuncture. He stresses that while no one therapy is right for every pet, boosting the immune system is an excellent complement to conventional therapies like radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery, as well as an important preventive program for healthy dogs. Presenting the reader with clinical studies supporting these treatments, or with his own extensive clinical experience where studies are not yet available, Dr. Messonnier gives readers an objective and up-to-date survey, complete with the pros and cons of each treatment, of all the integrative options available for treating and preventing cancer in dogs.
When treating a dog with cancer, owners truly have many options. The reason for the large number of options is that there is no one "best" treatment for every pet. I share the holistic belief that each pet is an individual, and must be treated as such. I discuss this philosophy with owners right from the start. What worked for the last dog I treated may not work for their pet. Additionally, each owner is unique and has different wants and a different budget for their pet's medical care. Some owners want to do everything possible for their pet. Money is no object, and they will often allow us to experiment and try quite a number of unique treatments. Others opt for a bit less, and may choose only surgery or one round of chemotherapy. Still others never want any conventional medications, and will opt for only natural therapies such as herbal therapy or homeopathy.
I should point out before proceeding that the truly holistic view, desired by most pet owners, involves looking at all options and choosing what works best with the fewest side effects. I'm a conventional doctor by training and use many conventional therapies in my practice. Whenever appropriate, I like to integrate as many different therapies as possible, as the best results occur when conventional therapiesare combined with complementary therapies. Chemotherapy, as used in veterinary medicine, is not as harmful as it is in people, and significant side effects are uncommon in pets. This is because maximum tolerated dosages are used in people, leading to complications in nearly every patient. For pets, most chemotherapy dosages are 10-20 percent lower than the maximum tolerable dosage, leading to fewer than 5 percent of treated pets having significant dose-limiting side effects such as bone marrow suppression (low white blood cell counts leading to increased risk of bacterial infection) or gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea).
The true goal of chemotherapy is to chemically reduce the burden of cancer and provide symptom-free quality of life. Having no evidence of cancer (by examination or X-ray evaluation) and no symptoms from cancer is called remission.
Once in remission, pets are prescribed supplements to help boost their immune systems as well as to counteract side effects of chemotherapy. In some cases chemotherapy may be the only treatment option, as the cancer patient may not be able or willing to take all of the recommended supplements. Some pets are easy to medicate and can take many herbal and homeopathic supplements several times a day, whereas others will never take anything by mouth, complicating our effort at developing the best treatment plan. The holistic approach simply means looking at all of the available treatment options and choosing what works best for each specific patient.
The best treatment for many dogs with cancer is often a sensible combination of both conventional and complementary therapies. I believe that by offering the two kinds of therapy to owners, I can give them the best of both worlds. By knowing the pros and cons of both types of medical care, owners can work with me to pick the therapies that they are most comfortable with, and that are most beneficial to their pets.
Keep in mind, too, that "holistic" doesn't necessarily mean "alternative." A truly holistic approach tries to heal the entire pet, and not just treat symptoms. A truly holistic approach chooses what's best for the pet, providing the pet relief while minimizing side effects. Conventional therapy can be a part of the holistic approach to the treatment of cancer if the goal is to help the pet become healthier and not just cover up symptoms or ignore the pet's overall well-being.
Combining complementary and conventional therapies offers the best of both worlds.
Here's an example of the harm that can come to a pet with a treatable cancer when owners refuse to be truly holistic and consider conventional chemotherapy. I once treated a friendly shih tzu named Radar for lymphosarcoma, a cancer that is very responsive to conventional chemotherapy with minimal side effects in most instances. In cases like this, I usually prescribe supplements and homeopathy to help boost a pet's immune response to conventional therapy. Unfortunately, Radar's owners were totally opposed to chemotherapy because they could not overcome unfounded fears that he would suffer during chemotherapy. Despite two weeks of supplements and homeopathy, Radar rapidly worsened and was euthanized shortly thereafter. This case was frustrating, as I believe that Radar could have done quite well if only his owners had agreed to a quick round of chemotherapy in addition to other therapies. In this instance, homeopathy and other supplements did not have any chance of success against the aggressiveness of Radar's cancer. The moral: whenever possible, don't decline treatments that work without serious thought and rational judgment. Remember that for many pets with cancer, complementary therapies alone rarely achieve the same results as conventional therapies. It is best to use them as they are intended, to complement the conventional treatments for the pet with cancer.
On the flip side, there are problems with the strictly conventional approach of diagnosing and treating cancer. Often, by ignoring the holistic approach to treatment, we are treating the cancer and not the pet. As one of the contributors to this book, cancer specialist Dr. Kevin Hahn likes to point out, Don't forget that there is a pet attached to the tumor! The only way to win the war against cancer is to make the pet as healthy as possible while we're treating the cancer. This may mean using supplements to support the liver, the gastrointestinal system, and any other organ or system of the body. Simply choosing conventional cancer therapies without regard for the overall health of the pet is not in the pet's best interest. Nutritional support is important - we must provide the pet with the best diet possible (see chapter 8 for more on the best diet for a pet with cancer). Nutritional supplements may be useful, to boost the immune system and help the pet recover its natural ability to fight cancer. Also, using complementary therapies such as glutamine supplementation may reduce the side effects, such as vomiting or diarrhea, that may occur with some types of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of a full diagnosis. Many doctors take a "wait and see" approach when an owner points out a suspicious lump on the pet. A diagnosis is often made by the doctor simply looking at and feeling the lump. Fatty tumor and cyst are the terms often applied to a benign (noncancerous) lesion. While it is true that most suspicious lumps are benign, some are malignant cancers. With rare exceptions (such as commonly observed warts, technically called papillomas, usually seen in older dogs), no one can adequately diagnose a tumor simply by looking at it and feeling it. I have removed too many malignant cancers that were originally diagnosed as fatty tumors or cysts to know that full diagnostic testing is essential, usually by examining under the microscope the aspirate taken from a tumor with a tiny needle.
Not too long ago I made an initial diagnosis of an infected cyst on the abdomen of Lizzie, a five-year-old spayed female black Labrador retriever. At first I was not concerned about this lesion. However, when it didn't get better after two weeks of topical antibiotic therapy, I suggested removal and biopsy. Imagine my surprise when this infected piece of skin was identified as a malignant mast cell tumor - a cancer notorious for looking like a benign cyst or fatty tumor! Thankfully, I had removed the entire tumor with that surgery and no further treatment was needed for Lizzie. Because of this and other similar cases, I have become convinced that mast cell tumors can look like almost anything. (You'll learn more about the ability of mast cell tumors to masquerade as benign fatty tumors and other lumps and bumps on pages 19-21 in chapter 2.)
Unless a lesion is an obvious old-age wart, I recommend removal and testing of all lesions. The lesson is simple: any lumps seen or felt under the skin or above the skin surface should be aspirated or in some way biopsied before a conclusive diagnosis of a benign fatty tumor or cyst is reached.
No one can adequately diagnose a tumor simply by looking at it and feeling it.
It is quite troubling that so many pets I see have not received a proper diagnosis. A good number of these pets have not had any diagnostic tests done. Yet often a simple aspirate of the lesion, radiograph (X-ray) of the abdomen when a suspicious mass is felt during examination, or blood test of a pet with unexplained clinical signs, such as lethargy and a lack of appetite, will reveal the cause of the pet's problem. There is simply no excuse for failing to obtain a proper diagnosis. The bottom line is this: to prevent a misdiagnosis of the true cause of a pet's lumps and bumps, we need proper diagnostic tests to make sure that our treatment choice is correct.
Common questions among owners of dogs with cancer include "What causes cancer?" "Why does my dog have cancer?" "Did I do anything to cause this?" and "Could I have prevented this?" This chapter attempts to answer these central questions. Following this discussion, I'll explain some of the more common cancers that occur in dogs. You can also refer to the index and turn to pages that address the cancer type that is most applicable to your pet's situation.
In most cases, you did not cause your pet's cancer nor could you have prevented it. However, using holistic preventive care is the best approach to minimize the chance of your pet (or you, for that matter) developing cancer or any other diseases. One important step is vaccinating your pet on an "as-needed" basis, rather than giving your pet every possible vaccine every year. It's also important to feed your pet a healthy diet free of by-products and chemicals, supplemented with quality nutritional supplements called nutraceuticals (Healthy Diet + Nutraceutical Supplementation = Health). Keeping your pet at an ideal weight may also reduce the incidence of cancer and other health problems, as obese pets are more likely to develop medical problems, including cancer, than pets maintaining a normal weight. If you find a lump on your pet, insist that your veterinarian aspirate it with a tiny needle and syringe so it can be tested for cancer; if the test indicates cancer, have the lump removed as soon as possible. Using more natural insecticides, when possible, to control fleas, ticks, and other parasites will lower your pet's exposure to carcinogenic toxins. In short, doing all of these things, which define the term holistic, will minimize your pet's chances of developing cancer.
Many types of cancer, such as ovarian, breast, and testicular cancer, are preventable by early removal of the reproductive organs. Specifically, early spaying and neutering (ideally between four and six months of age) reduces the incidence of or prevents most genital cancers. Some skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma and cutaneous hemangiosarcoma, can be prevented by minimizing a dog's exposure to the sun, especially in breeds with lighter skin and sparse hair. For a holistic approach to increasing longevity for our pets, we may also consider natural therapies that have been shown to inhibit cancer during the aging process. We will explore these therapies further in chapter 6.
The holistic approach to cancer is concerned with prevention as well as treatment, and maintaining a good quality life until the very end of that life. By adopting a holistic approach to the care of your pet with cancer, you can be assured that it is the most loving approach to the care of your special friend.
Healthy Diet + Nutraceutical Supplementation = Health
Holistic healing supports the immune system and nutritional needs of patients from the very beginning of their fight against cancer. Holistic care includes providing natural supplements, antioxidants, herbs, and homeopathics in addition to proven conventional therapies.
Unfortunately, cancer is common in pets, killing up to one-half of those more than ten years old. When cancer develops in a pet, the battle to save that pet's life will require a combination of efforts.
What Causes Cancer in Dogs?
In most pets, the exact cause of cancer is not known. Basically, cancer is often a fatal disease that is caused by mutations in the genes of certain susceptible cells (see boxed text on pages 10-12). These genetic mutations, usually caused by inflammation or excessive oxidation, convert normal cells into cancer cells that divide rapidly and grow uncontrollably, pushing their way into the surrounding tissues composed of otherwise normal cells. Because oxidation and inflammation can lead to the development of most if not all cancers, an important part of cancer therapy includes prescription of medications and/or supplements that decrease inflammation and oxidation. Any preventive measures that reduce inflammation and oxidation, such as feeding natural diets and using nutritional supplements, may also help reduce the incidence of cancer in your pet.
The battle against cancer is often won or lost at this microscopic stage; if the pet's immune system is functioning well, it can identify and eliminate these altered cancer cells. Most cells are programmed to live for a limited period of time, but this is not always true with cancer cells. For example, studies have shown that a gene called Apaf-1 that causes cell death (a normal aging process called apoptosis) is inactivated in cancer, allowing the cells to live, reproduce, spread, and eventually kill the patient.
With a healthy immune system, cancer cells are killed at this early stage before they start growing and begin spreading, also known as metastasizing, throughout the body. However, sometimes the immune system, for reasons not always apparent, fails to wipe out these abnormal cells. If the abnormal cells are allowed to continue dividing, they may develop into small cancerous lumps that create tumors, which may be located anywhere in the body.
Cancers of the blood cells may prevent the bone marrow from developing normal cells, predisposing the body to infection, anemia, and blood-clotting problems. For cancerous cells that form solid tumors, the most obvious tumors appear in the skin, on the surface of the skin, or just under the skin. Cancer may also take the form of ulcers or nonhealing sores or red spots anywhere on the pet's body.
Excerpted from The Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing And Treating Cancer in Dogs by Shawn Messonnier Copyright © 2006 by Shawn Messonnier. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 26, 2006
What a comprehensive work! I think every vet should get a copy of it. While I am interested in prevention, I know that many people who have pets with this awful affliction will get very important information regarding the treatment of it. Thank you. Diane
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