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North Hills Monthly

State-of-the-art Veterinary Cancer Treatment Arriving in Pittsburgh

Jan 01, 2017 02:25PM ● By Erica Cebzanov

PetCure patient Demitri

If you consider your pet a valued family member, it can be heartbreaking to learn that he or she has cancer. Yet researchers are developing innovative veterinary oncology treatment options to give pet owners cause for hope.

PetCure Oncology is bringing one such method—stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS)—to Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center (PVSEC) in late January. While humans have benefitted from SRS for decades, Dr. Christine Anderson, who has overseen PVSEC’s radiation oncology department since 2013, has had to refer patients to PetCure’s Cincinnati location for the closest treatment access.

SRS presents many benefits over conventional radiation therapy as it delivers a noninvasive, more targeted, higher radiation dosage directly to tumors while mostly avoiding healthy surrounding tissues.

“One exciting thing about stereotactic is that a lot of tumors that are not considered treatable with conventional radiation therapy would be treatable,” said Dr. Anderson, who is board-certified in radiation and medical oncology.

Ben Chiswick, PetCure Oncology’s marketing communications director, said that SRS is capable of treating tumors in the brain, spine, lungs and prostate, which are deemed too risky for conventional radiation due to the possibility of damaging nearby structures.

Similarly, the precision results in fewer side effects. “We can carve out a high dose of radiation to the tumor and really minimize the dose to the other tissues including the skin—even when the tumor is just beneath the skin,” Dr. Anderson said, adding that there are often no side effects to the skin, though there might be a little redness.

Furthermore, she said standard radiation involves 15 to 18 treatments, depending on the tumor type and location, while SRS only consists of one to three sessions on consecutive days. Chiswick adds that in most cases, pets are able to resume normal activities following treatment.

The Process

Dr. Anderson sees patients referred by their general veterinarians, PVSEC specialists or outside specialists for initial consultations. SRS candidates must have identifiable tumors, otherwise the targeted radiation risks damage to healthy tissues. If surgery shrinks but doesn’t fully remove a tumor, it could eliminate SRS as a treatment option.

“If there is just a scar—if we know the tumor cells are left behind, but there is no mass—that patient is not a good candidate for stereotactic,” said Dr. Anderson.

Additionally, the PetCure Oncology website states that patients with significantly metastasized cancer or blood-cell cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma, are typically not ideal SRS candidates.

If Dr. Anderson and the pet owner agree to move forward with SRS, she will order a computed tomography (CT) scan, which illustrates what areas to target and what to avoid, and will develop a treatment plan containing the pet’s radiation dosage and number of treatments. Prior to each session, the pet will receive anesthesia, and a machine will deliver the radiation over the course of approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Dr. Anderson said that outcomes vary significantly based on each particular case. “For some patients, life expectancies of 6 to 12 months may be a more realistic goal, but there are definitely tumors where two or three years or even longer are expected,” she explained.

PetCure Oncology at PVSEC offers a variety of radiation therapy treatment options that range from $3,000 to $10,000. The cost for SRS is $10,000, an all-inclusive fee for the entire treatment process that includes an initial treatment planning CT and all treatment sessions. That cost does not include the initial consult fee of $150, or any additional diagnostics that may become necessary as part of a proper cancer work-up.

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