This is wonderful, but longer lives mean that more pets are affected by cancer. If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, you are likely scared, and concerned about your next steps. While cancer in pets used to be associated with a poor prognosis, veterinary oncologists have made significant progress in understanding how to treat cancer patients, and improve their quality of life as they live longer.
What training is required to become a veterinary oncologist?
A veterinary oncologist is a veterinarian who has undergone extensive training in oncology to obtain specialized knowledge to diagnose, stage, and develop treatment plans for pets with cancer. They become experts in the field after extensive education that includes:
- Undergraduate studies — An individual must complete three to four years of undergraduate studies, typically in pre-veterinary medicine or animal science.
- Veterinary school — During their undergraduate years, they must perform well enough to be accepted to an accredited college of veterinary medicine. After completing four years in veterinary school, they must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE).
- Internship — Veterinarians must then complete a one-year rotating internship in veterinary medicine and surgery.
- Residency — Following the internship, the veterinarian completes three to six years of advanced training in internal medicine at a veterinary hospital under the mentorship of experts in the field. After completing the residency, the veterinarian must submit a credentials application and take a rigorous examination that evaluates their knowledge and training. If they pass, they are granted Diplomate status in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM).
- Veterinary oncology specialty — After receiving Diplomate status, the veterinarian must complete an additional three years of veterinary oncology training in an approved oncology residency program and then pass an intensive examination in the field to become a licensed veterinary oncologist.
When does my pet need a veterinary oncologist?
If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, or your veterinarian suspects your pet has cancer, a veterinary oncologist’s specialized knowledge, training, and equipment will help you better understand your pet’s disease, and can help you decide how to maximize your pet’s quality and quantity of life. Veterinary oncologists also are experienced in handling cancer treatment medications, and minimizing the drugs’ side effects.
What specialized care can a veterinary oncologist provide?
Veterinary oncology focuses on prolonging your pet’s life without negatively impacting their quality of life. A multi-modal approach is often used, and options include:
- Surgery — When possible, the cancerous lesion is completely removed. In other cases, surgery can debulk a tumor to help improve the efficacy of other treatment modalities. Surgery may also be recommended to improve a pet’s quality of life if a large tumor is inhibiting their mobility, or a cancerous condition, such as a pathologic bone fracture, is painful.
- Chemotherapy — Chemotherapy uses chemical agents to kill cancer cells or to inhibit their growth and division. This treatment modality is typically used when tumors are widespread, or when the oncologist feels that metastasis from the primary tumor location is imminent.
- Radiation — Radiation therapy, which uses high-dose radiation to destroy cancer cells, is the most effective treatment modality for tumors with rapidly dividing cells, and can be used alone or combined with other approaches.
- Gene therapy — Gene therapy involves introducing genes to kill or inhibit cancerous cell growth.
- Immunotherapy — Immunotherapy involves harnessing the pet’s immune system to help combat the cancer.
A veterinary oncologist can greatly improve your pet’s cancer prognosis. To find a veterinary oncologist in your area, contact your nearest Ethos Veterinary Health location, or use the ACVIM’s searchable online directory.