Cancer, unfortunately, is a common disorder in veterinary medicine, and the incidence seems to be increasing. A major reason for this is that cats are living longer than ever before. Now that they’re living to 17, 18, and even longer, they’re living long enough to develop cancers that we never saw when they died at 12 or 13. Another reason is that major medical advances have given us the technology to detect cancers that previously went undiagnosed. An increased awareness of cancer, coupled with more sophisticated technology, has allowed veterinarians to become pretty adept at making the dreaded diagnosis.

While the cause of most cancers remains unknown, environmental agents can induce cancerous changes in cells, such as viruses, chemicals, radiation, and some hormones. The effects of these agents can accumulate over time, explaining why cancer more commonly affects older animals.

The diagnosis of cancer in a beloved cat can be devastating. However, it is important to realize that, as in human cancers, many types of cancer in cats can be treated, managed, and sometimes even cured. Chemotherapy is one of the most effective ways to treat cancer. Fortunately, the most common type of cancer that we diagnose in cats – lymphosarcoma – is very sensitive to chemotherapy. (Lymphosarcoma is sometimes called lymphoma. The terms are synonymous.)

Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with anticancer drugs. The drugs are toxic to malignant cells. Some of these drugs are given intravenously. Others are given by mouth. In some cases, chemotherapy is the only line of treatment. In other cases, chemotherapy is given in combination with other modalities, such as surgery or radiation. For example, chemotherapy may be given after surgery or radiation to help slow the growth of cancer that may have already spread. In other cases, chemotherapy may be employed before surgery, to shrink the size of a tumor prior to surgery, or to make your cat more comfortable while living with the disease.

For many people, the word “chemotherapy” has terrible connotations, with visions of hair loss, vomiting, and other distressing side effects. Nearly everyone has some personal experience with chemotherapy, and many cat owners are concerned about “putting their cat through chemo”. The reality is that most cats handle chemotherapy very well. Cancer treatment for both people and pets has become more sophisticated over the years, and the side effects of the drugs we use have become less severe. In addition, the chemotherapy protocols used in veterinary medicine are less aggressive than those used for humans, so side effects, if they occur, are often very mild. In human medicine, the goal of treatment is to achieve a cure. In veterinary medicine, the goal of chemotherapy is to extend your cat’s life while maintaining its quality.

Most cat owners are pleasantly surprised at how well their cat does with chemotherapy. Most cats maintain a good quality of life, and it is very gratifying to have the extra time with a treasured companion.

Treating a cat with chemotherapy is a commitment – a time commitment, financial commitment, and emotional commitment – and it can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for cat owners.

At Manhattan Cat Specialists, we offer chemotherapy for cats with lymphosarcoma. As always, our goal is to keep your cat as comfortable as possible while fighting the cancer. Most cats maintain a good quality of life, and it is very gratifying to have the extra time with a treasured companion.

We understand this process can be challenging, and our doctors and staff are here to help. Please feel free to let us know any questions or concerns you may have about your cat and chemotherapy.