What is Cancer?
Our bodies, and those of our pets, are made up of millions of microscopic cells. Over our lifetimes, these cells replicate millions and millions of time, helping grow, repair damage, conduct the normal functions of life and replace aged tissue. Normally, this cell division and replication is carefully controlled by the body, and happens only as needed.
If a cell changes and loses control of this replication it can divide uncontrollably, creating more and more cells. This uncontrolled growth is called Cancer. This loss of control is usually due to an accidental change or mutation in the cell's DNA. In some cases this can be influenced by lifestyle (such as smoking in people), but often it's just a terrible accidental occurrence, with no underlying cause.
Cancer is dangerous because the uncontrolled growth of the cells can damage surrounding tissue, can spread throughout the body, and can drain the body of energy and nutrients.
Cancers vary widely depending on which cells they started from, and on the speed of their replication and growth. Cancers that grow slowly and don't cause significant damage are often called "benign", whereas cancers that grow rapidly, spread throughout the body and cause damage are called "malignant".
How is Cancer Diagnosed?
A veterinarian may suspect cancer if a pet has unexpected weight loss, has swollen lymph nodes (glands), has breathing issues or abdominal enlargement.
The specific signs of cancer vary widely depending on the cancer location and type.
Diagnosis of cancer will often involve:
- Physical examination by the vet
- Blood tests
- X-rays or ultrasound
- Biopsy (either using a small needle or possibly requiring a surgery)
Having an accurate diagnosis will allow your veterinarian to make a much better assessment about suitable treatments and the overall prognosis.