Chemotherapy is the name given to a group of drugs that have the ability to kill cancer cells. In veterinary oncology, we are able to use many different chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer. The specific drug or drug combination that is initially recommended for each patient varies depending on many factors, including the type of cancer to be treated, as well as the general health of the pet. Once treatment with chemotherapy has begun, the protocols are often further modified to provide the most efficacious treatment possible with the fewest side effects. Therefore, each chemotherapy protocol is highly tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient.
Many people are initially hesitant to use chemotherapy to treat their pet’s cancer because they do not want to compromise their pet’s quality of life. An owner may be concerned that treatment with chemotherapy will cause severe side effects in their pet and will make their pet feel poorly. While side effects are possible with chemotherapy and are described in detail below, the main goal of chemotherapy use in veterinary patients is different than it is in human patients. Our primary goal in using these drugs is to provide the pet with a good quality of life for as long as possible. We treat cancer as aggressively as we can but not at the expense of the pet’s quality of life. If the pet starts to experience significant chemotherapy-related side effects, we alter our treatment plan. Fortunately, most dogs and cats tolerate chemotherapy much better than human patients.