Category Archives: Cancer

Cancer Corner – What is Cancer?

02- diagnostics

Cancer takes the lives of half of all pets over the age of ten. This terrible disease attacks the body from within. It causes pain and suffering as it gradually drags the animal relentlessly towards death. In order to deal with cancer, we must first understand it.

Cancer is the result of a good cell gone bad. A single, normal cell of any tissue of the body can transform into a seemingly unstoppable, fast-growing, spreading monster. The process starts due to mistakes that are made in the replication of the cell’s DNA (a process called transcription) as that cell divides.

These transcription mistakes, called mutations, can change the functioning of the cell. For example, cells contain genes called tumor suppressor genes that code for “programmed cell death” or apoptosis. Limiting a cell’s lifespan in this way allows for the replacement of old cells with new ones. In cancer cells tumor suppressor genes are turned off and the abnormal cells go right on living. This leads to the accumulation of “immortal” cancerous cells.

The good news is that the body has mechanisms for discovering and eliminating mutations as they happen. The bad news is that this correction mechanism does not always catch every mistake. Since the body contains trillions of cells that are all continuously reproducing, abnormal cells are created all the time. It takes somewhere between 40 and 80 mutations to create a cancer cell.

The body has one more trick up its sleeve to thwart cancer – the immune system. Free-ranging immune cells called natural killer cells, or NK cells, can quickly detect and kill cancer cells on first contact. NK cells can destroy cancer cells before they multiply and cause disease.

Any abnormal cell that makes it through all of the body’s defenses becomes cancer. That cell will reproduce uncontrollably causing a mass of defective cells. These cells often do not provide the needed function and begin to crowd out those that do function normally. Because of the out of control cellular replication, even more mutations occur resulting in more aggressiveness, or malignancy, and increased resistance to cancer treatments.

The frenetic growth and reproduction of cells requires high metabolic activity and energy consumption. As the tumor grows, the abnormal cells secrete substances which cause the formation of new blood vessels (a process called angiogenesis) to feed its voracious appetite. The increased blood supply makes it easier for cancerous cells to slip into the blood stream and travel to other parts of the body to form new tumors, or metastasize.

Cancer is named for the cell type with which it originated, no matter where tumors may spread. So, breast cancer cells that metastasize to the bones are still called breast cancer.

When a tumor is biopsied a pathologist examines the cells microscopically to determine the type and character of the cancer. Based on the degree of abnormality seen, the tumor can be graded for the level of malignancy from 1 to 4. Grade 1 tumors are mildly aggressive while grade 4 cancers are highly malignant.

The grade of the tumor is not to be confused with the stage of cancer. Staging is also done on a scale of 1 to 4 but is a reflection of the size of the tumor, its location, and whether it has metastasized. Again, stage 4 cancer is the worst of the worst.

I have now introduced some basic cancer terminology and concepts, laying the groundwork for more helpful information to come. Cancer is a scary disease but there is much that can be done naturally to prevent or treat it. This is the first of a series of “Cancer Corner” posts that will help you understand and deal with this disease.

Have you had a pet with cancer?


Poor Puppy

Puppy Selfie 2

The recent sale of some of P&G’s pet food brands to Mars brought out the “experts.” In a news article, here’s what one pet food authority had to say:

“Ninety percent of pets live on the cheapest pet food and survive,” says Nestle, co-author of “Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat.”

Wow, doesn’t that sound like a great marketing slogan – Feed Brand X and your pet will survive! (Barely). Marion Nestle is a professor of nutrition. She made this comment after basically saying that it really doesn’t make sense to spend money on quality pet foods because there are no studies proving they are any healthier.

This attitude is what keeps us veterinarians in business treating pets with chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, recurrent infections, and cancer. This is what “survival” looks like. The myth that these diets are “complete and balanced” perpetuates the fantasy that they promote pet health. In reality, countless pet illnesses are related to poor nutrition.

Many of the major brands of pet foods are made with low quality ingredients and filled with cheap carbs in order to keep pet food prices low. In fact, pet food brands are being bought up by major players in the human food business as a way to make money off of the waste of their industry. The problem is that when it comes to pet nutrition the old saying holds true: Garbage in – Garbage out.

Speaking of garbage, later in the article there is another telling quote of Professor Nestle:

“The more disgusting it is to humans,” she says, “the more dogs like to eat it. They like rotten meat flavors. They like garbage.”

Yes, let’s feed them garbage. That is the attitude of nutrition experts and many pet food companies. How unfortunate for 90% of pets.

My aim is to help pets thrive, not survive. Proper nutrition, from puppy-hood to senior, is the way to do just that.

It is true that more expensive pet food is not necessarily better. There is also the over-use of catch words such as “Natural” and “Holistic” on pet food bags. You really have to carefully read the ingredient lists and know what tricks pet food companies like to play. I’ll have more on this in upcoming posts.

What do you feed your pet and why?

Mitsu vs. Bone Cancer

Mitsu Kashmer

Mitsu is a wonderful 12-year-old Akita with a friendly disposition. She first came to me in May of 2012 because she was limping on her right front leg on and off for 6 months and her owner was concerned that she might have arthritis. Unfortunately, X-rays revealed she had osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in her humerus (upper front leg bone).

We got Mitsu started on a raw diet, fish oil and anti-cancer supplements. Her owners also pursued conventional cancer care so Mitsu was getting chemotherapy. Very soon we instituted acupuncture treatments for pain management and to help alleviate the nausea which was a side effect of the chemo.

Mitsu’s caregivers decided against having her leg amputated. Amputation of a limb affected by osteosarcoma does not get rid of the cancer and does not prolong life. It may decrease the pain associated with the disease in the long run, but it is a traumatic and disfiguring surgery.

Mitsu took her diet, supplements and chemotherapy like a champ. She has had her ups and downs but the acupuncture has really helped her through the rough times. She has since also received radiation therapy on her leg and we have changed cancer supplements periodically.

In my experience, cancer is a disease of the entire animal even if there is only a localized tumor visible. The goal is to create an environment in the body that is inhospitable to cancer and thereby keep it at bay. True cure is only rarely achieved but control is very possible.

It has been almost 2 years since Mitsu’s bone cancer was first diagnosed. She has outlived her caregivers’ and her oncologist’s expectations, but no pet’s life is ever long enough. Mitsu is still strong but the cancer and the cancer treatment have taken their toll and the disease is definitely progressing.

Every moment we share with our beloved pets is precious and this is especially the case for Mitsu and her family. We don’t know how much time we have left with her but we will make every minute count. No matter how you look at it, Mitsu is a winner.

By the way, she totally LOVES her acupuncture treatments! Here she is zenning out.

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Her needles are hard to see with all her fur but here’s one.

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