10 Questions to Ask Your Vet When Your Pet Gets the Big Cancer Diagnosis

Vet checking xray
Yoko Aziz / Alamy

A diagnosis of cancer in a beloved pet tends to broadside owners like a ton of bricks.

If you do happen to find yourself in this unfortunate position, here are 10 key questions you should ask your veterinarian to help prepare you for the next steps.

1. Are You Sure About the Diagnosis?

The gold standard for diagnosing cancer is a biopsy, but not all cancers can or should be biopsied.

Take, for example, the most common feline brain tumor, meningioma, which has a very characteristic appearance on an MRI. When veterinary neurosurgeons see one, they remove the tumor based on its MRI appearance, without first doing a brain biopsy.

In this case, the diagnosis of cancer is not 100 percent certain until after the tumor has been removed and the results come back from the pathology laboratory.

2. Does My Pet Need a Biopsy?

Sometimes your veterinarian may suspect a tumor, but a quick diagnostic test, called a cytology, comes back inconclusive.

A feline patient of mine, Charity, developed a lump on her back. The cytology of the lump did not show a malignancy, but since the lump continued to get larger over a couple of months, I suspected a tumor. After sending her to a surgeon, a biopsy of the mass confirmed a fibrosarcoma.

3. Can More Tests Be Performed?

Mast cell tumors, the most common form of skin cancer in dogs,come in three varieties: grade I, II and III.

Grade II reminds me of a difficult middle child. When I see a mast cell tumor biopsy grade II, I rely on advanced testing of the biopsy to give me additional information about how badly the tumor will behave, further directing my treatment recommendations.

4. What Other Tests Can Evaluate the Extent of the Tumor?

Nearly every dog and cat with cancer needs a chest X-ray to determine if the tumor has spread to the lungs. Based on the typical behavior of your pet’s tumor, an abdominal ultrasound, lymph node aspirate or a CT scan may also be recommended.


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