Radiation Oncology

AVS provides advanced, external beam radiation treatment for your pet using one of only three Linear accelerators in Florida. It is the same technology used to treat human cancer patients at hospitals throughout the country. This large piece of equipment produces both high-energy x-rays and electrons that can be focused to treat a tumor. The electron energy levels can be varied, allowing treatment of more superficial tumors, such as those that are on or near the skin.

First, the AVS oncology team will evaluate your pet to determine the best possible solution for treating your pet’s cancer. This may include a computed tomography (CT) study to pinpoint the tumor’s precise location and to develop a treatment plan tailored to your pet’s anatomy. The goal is to deliver the highest dose of radiation to the tumor while sparing the normal surrounding tissue.

Radiation therapy is given as a series of treatments, which are typically daily over three to four weeks. This schedule maximizes the effect to the tumor while attempting to reduce the side effects seen in normal tissue. The total radiation dose and the number of treatments will depend on:

  • the size and location of the tumor
  • your pet’s overall health
  • the type of cancer present

Your pet will have to be under general anesthesia for each treatment. This keeps your pet perfectly still so that we can repeatedly treat the tumor area. Because of the high levels of radiation used, we cannot be in the room with your pet during treatment but instead monitor from an adjacent room using cameras, video monitors and an intercom system.

The first treatment takes the longest because we must set up the treatment field. This typically involves clipping the hair in that area and applying ink marks to outline the field. These marks will guide all treatment sessions and should not be washed off. The actual treatment itself lasts less than five minutes. Once radiation treatments have started, you will drop off your pet in the morning by 9 a.m. and pick up the pet in the afternoon, several hours after recovery from the anesthesia.

HOW COULD RADIATION THERAPY HELP MY PET?

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and can be used to treat cancers that may not be successfully treated with surgery or chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation therapy can permanently control a tumor. However, in many cases, it will not cure the cancerous tumor but can manage the cancer for a certain amount of time. The end result varies depending on the type of cancer, the extent of the disease and the location of the tumor.

HOW DOES RADIATION THERAPY WORK?

Radiation therapy destroys cancer cells only in the area that is directly in the path of the x-rays called the treatment field. It damages the DNA or genetic material in the cells, which stops their ability to grow and divide. The full effect of radiation may not be realized until after one or more cells have divided, and it can take a month or so before a cancer cell attempts to divide and then dies. Because of this delayed response, the benefits of radiation therapy often continue even after treatments are completed.

THE AVS ONCOLOGY TEAM

The AVS oncology team consists of board-certified veterinary surgeons, internists and radiologists. These specialists will work together and help formulate a tailored treatment plan specific to your pet and the type of cancer your pet has. In addition, a radiation oncology physicist ensures proper radiation dosage and quality assurance of the equipment that is used.

ARE THERE RISKS INVOLVED?

There are risks involved with any type of cancer treatment. Radiation is intended to kill cancer cells, but there are always some normal cells damaged as well. In addition, undergoing general anesthesia carries risks. However, this risk is minimized by requiring that your pet has a full medical work-up prior to receiving anesthesia. This helps to identify any underlying health problems that need to be addressed. In addition, the AVS oncology team will carefully monitor your pet during each treatment to minimize potential complications. The vast majority of patients tolerate the full course of radiation therapy, including the anesthesia.