Pet Points: Radiation complements surgery, chemotherapy

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My friend Robin came to the office to show me a small lump on her dog's elbow. Although it looked like a benign fatty tumor called a lipoma, we did a fine needle aspiration just to be sure.

It turned out that this mass had some abnormal-looking cells. Her dog had had a tumor at this exact site years ago that was a hemangiopericytoma. These tumors rarely metastasize to a distant site but often recur at the original site. At the time of surgery, the tumor had invaded deep into the structure of the elbow joint. To avoid additional surgery on an older dog, we discussed and elected to use radiation therapy.

This region is fortunate to have a wide range of veterinary services available. In addition to veterinary offices, we have multiple emergency and specialty services. One of the specialty services available is radiation oncology practiced by Koichi Nagata. He practices at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township, which has a specialty surgery department and veterinary oncologists who do chemotherapy on animals.

He explains that cancer consists of abnormal cells that keep multiplying. Radiation, which attacks those abnormal cells and kills them, is suitable for tumors that cannot be removed with surgery. Brain and nasal tumors are good examples. Tumors of the paw are also often difficult to remove.

In addition, radiation can alleviate pain caused by bulky tumors. For example, bone tumors can be very painful, and radiation therapy can decrease the pain significantly.

Prior to radiation therapy, a radiation oncologist will often use a CT scan to assess the extent of the tumor and use a special planning computer to determine the strength and method of delivery to that specific patient.

Radiation therapy uses X-rays 1,000 times stronger than those from a regular X-ray machine to kill abnormal cells. The equipment is housed in a special facility with thick concrete walls. Pets are put under anesthesia for the procedure, which can be repeated daily.

Radiation treatments are not painful, but side effects can include a rash that looks like a sunburn. Although expensive, radiation therapy can complement surgery and chemotherapy in our fight against cancer in animals.

Robin's dog is doing well with no recurrence of the tumor. He did well with his treatments and had no complications with his advanced cancer care.


Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.


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