Vet Oncologists providing cancer treatment for dogs, cats and small animals
To best serve the needs of pets with cancer, and to support the people who love and care for them, we strive to offer compassion and understanding, to provide guidance to empower decision making, and to give pets and their families access to the most appropriate and up to date treatment options at our dedicated Animal Cancer Centre.
We recommend visiting our Animal Cancer Centre page to find out more about how our Medical, Surgical and Radiation Oncology teams work together to help families and referring veterinarians when pets are diagnosed with cancer.
Radiation Oncology - Animal Cancer Treatment
The state-of-the-art Radiation Oncology service at SASH specialises in treatment of cancer using radiation.
Radiation is one of several ways in which cancer can be treated. Others include medical therapy (e.g. chemotherapy) and surgical removal of solid tumours. The most appropriate approach to treatment depends on various factors, including the type of cancer, its size and location, and whether the cancer has, or is likely to, spread (or ‘metastasise’) to other parts of the body. The ideal therapy for an individual pet may involve one or more of these types of treatment.
We are fortunate at SASH that our in-house specialist medical, surgical and radiation oncology teams can collaborate in developing the most appropriate treatment recommendations for individual pets. This multi-disciplinary, cooperative approach gives families the information they need to choose management options with confidence and gives pets access to the highest standards of integrated oncology care.
If radiation is chosen as part of the treatment plan, a comprehensive range of human grade radiation therapy options can be provided on-site in the Animal Cancer Centre at SASH Sydney. This is made possible by our technologically advanced equipment, and by the expertise of our radiation oncology team, including a specialist veterinary radiation oncologist, a highly trained radiation oncology therapist and a dedicated radiation nurse. Our physics team ensures that all radiation treatment plans meet the standards expected in human hospitals.
This fully inclusive service, the first of is kind in Australia , offers outstanding care in a welcoming, easily accessible environment, and means that pets can complete their treatment in familiar surroundings, with the same supportive team.
How does radiation therapy work?
Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy x-rays to cause cancer cell death. Over time, this results in control, shrinkage or elimination of the tumour. Radiation is a highly localised therapy, which means it affects only the part of the body where the radiation is targeted. Whilst radiation is directed at the tumour specifically, a small amount of seemingly healthy tissue will also be irradiated to ensure that any microscopic disease, that cannot be easily detected, will also be treated. All efforts are made to design a treatment that is in the best interest of the pet, maximizing the impact on the tumour and minimising the effect on healthy tissues and organs.
Most patients tolerate radiation treatment well, with few side effects. If these do occur, we collaborate with our specialist in-house colleagues and nursing teams as required to ensure that the patient feels better as quickly as possible.
What are the different kinds of radiation therapy?
With the linear accelerator (LINAC) available at SASH, we can offer three types of radiation therapy, known as ‘Definitive’, ‘Stereotactic’ and ‘Palliative’. Each has features (e.g., dose, duration, positioning of the x-ray beam) that can be used to best suit the needs of the pet, depending on the type and location of the tumour and the goals of treatment.
Definitive treatment is used to achieve long term control of the tumour. Palliative treatment is usually intended to alleviate pain and make the patient more comfortable to increase their quality of life. Stereotactic radiation is a type of radiation that can be used both for long term control and palliation.
We regard this flexibility in radiation treatment options to be an important benefit for our patients and their families, as it simplifies the process and avoids the need to transport patients to and from off-site locations to access appropriate therapy. People and their pets become accustomed to seeing the same people for each treatment, and this helps to provide comfort and reassurance during what can be a difficult time.
What does treatment involve?
All patients are assessed by the Radiation Oncologist prior to treatment. A radiation-planning CT scan (or CT sim) is performed to plan and calculate the tailored radiation protocol that best suits each pet. The CT can also help to check for any spread of the cancer. Radiation therapy usually begins a few days after the CT scan.
A definitive radiation treatment course is usually between 10 and 20 treatments or doses (daily, Monday to Friday). Stereotactic treatments are much shorter, usually consisting of 3 to 5 treatments (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). A palliative course is once a week for 4-6 weeks, though can occasionally be Monday to Friday. Depending on the schedule, treatment can be provided as a ‘day procedure’, or patients can board with use for the duration of their course of therapy.
Each treatment lasts between 15 and 35 minutes. Radiation therapy in animals differs from that in humans in that pets must be anaesthetised. General anaesthesia is provided by our Anaesthesia team, and is needed as the patients must be specifically positioned and kept completely still during their treatment, to ensure that the radiation is delivered accurately and safely. Before each treatment begins, a special CT scan (cone beam CT scan) is performed to make sure the patient is lying in exactly the right position.