What Did That Nice Cancer Specialist Just Say? "Onco-Speak" for the Pet Owner

Stage: To determine the stage of your pet’s tumor, we evaluate the entire pet using physical examination, blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound or advanced imaging such as CT scan and MRI. Stage is an example of when bigger is not better since the more tumor we find, the higher the stage. In all tumors, the highest stage is given when the tumor has spread widely throughout the body.A tumor with a high stage carries a worse prognosis.

Aggressive: This is a harsh word and is easily misconstrued.When it is used to describe a tumor, it means the tumor is likely to spread rapidly or recur quickly despite treatment. When it is used to describe a treatment, though, it can unnecessarily strike fear in the heart of the pet owner due to concerns about unbearable side effects. So instead of using “aggressive” to describe a treatment, I prefer to say that this option has the best chance of controlling your pet’s tumor long-term and then I describe the expected reaction. Discussing treatment in these terms can usually help avoid evoking an emotional response.

Complete remission: Defining this term may be unnecessary. These are the two words every pet owner wants to hear from their veterinary oncologist. “Complete remission,” sometimes also called no evidence of disease, means we cannot find any clinical evidence of the tumor in your pet.This diagnosis is typically based on physical examination, blood tests, x-rays and ultrasound or advanced imaging such as CT scan and MRI.If you and your pet are lucky, the tumor will stay away forever.

I hope if your pet has cancer, you get to hear these last words soon.Keep in mind: Not all cancers in pets are fatal and that your pet's diagnosis may still come with a happy ending.


Read more pieces by Dr. Ann Hohenhaus.

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