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Preserving the Quality of Life for a Patient

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Matt Sherger, DVM, MS
Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology)
Garden State Veterinary Specialists

One of the more common reasons for pet parents to bring their dogs to the veterinarian is concern that they are drinking and urinating more than normal. In some circumstances the causes are straightforward such as the heat of summer. However, these non-specific symptoms can be a sign of a more serious medical condition.

Increased thirst and urinations can be a sign of a number of medical problems. Some of these problems can include urinary tract infections, urinary calculi (bladder stones), endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus and Cushing’s disease) and others. Among some of these other causes is cancer. While a variety of cancers have the potential to affect the urinary tract and more specifically the bladder, the most common is a type of tumor called transitional cell carcinoma.

Urinary bladder cancer has been estimated to comprise 2% of all cancers seen in the dog. Generally, small breed dogs such as the Scottish terrier, Shetland sheepdog and Beagle are considered most at risk, however, any breed or size of dog can be affected by this disease. In these affected dogs TCC affects the bladder wall, urethra, ureters, prostate or any combination of these locations. As the tumor grows it causes patients to experience an increased urgency to urinate, straining when urinating, and urinating small volumes more frequently. In some situations, this can also lead to blood being seen in the urine.

Since these symptoms overlap with a number of other medical conditions, a thorough, methodical diagnostic workup is often needed to ascertain the exact cause. Often veterinarians will begin with blood work and analysis of the urine. If these tests do not provide a clear explanation for the cause of symptoms additional testing is often required and can include radiographs of the abdomen and ultrasound examination of the abdomen. When these tests raise concern for cancer, patients are often referred to a specialist for consideration of other diagnostic testing such as endoscopic procedures to obtain a biopsy and confirm the suspicion of cancer.

As a veterinary oncologist, many of my patients are referred to me by family veterinarians when they have a suspicion of or have diagnosed cancer in one of their patients. My job is to evaluate the patient and their condition and determine what treatment will improve the quality of life for that individual patient and that is right for an individual family. In the case of TCC, some of the more traditional treatments like surgery are often not feasible due to the tumor’s location within the bladder. Instead, medical treatments like anti-inflammatory therapy and chemotherapy are more traditionally used. The goal with these tumors is to shrink the tumor and allow improved urine flow with a decreased feeling or urgency and straining. With medical therapy, tumor growth can be controlled in approximately 75% of patients. While many patients with TCC will not be cured of their disease their quality of life can be significantly improved giving your pet a longer, happier life with their families.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the professional advice of your veterinarian.

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