By Dr. Amy Plankenhorn
Meet sweet Apollo, a big, beautiful 5 ½ year old bundle of Labrador Retriever energy. We first met Apollo in July, 2015, when he saw Dr. Amylisa Parker with a complaint of coughing. During her complete physical examination, Dr. Parker discovered that all of Apollo's external lymph nodes were enlarged. She aspirated some cells from one of the lymph nodes, and sent the cells on a slide to the pathology lab. She also took chest x-rays and performed a complete blood count and chemistry profile to assess Apollo's general health. Unfortunately, Apollo's report from the pathologist came back confirming that he had a type of cancer called lymphosarcoma, also known as lymphoma. Fortunately for Apollo and his family, Dr. Parker explained that we can often get lymphoma into remission with chemotherapy and thus make Apollo’s remaining life longer and a time that he feels good.
Lymphoma is a common cancer of the lymph nodes in dogs. While some dogs are feeling sick when the cancer is discovered, the first sign is often enlargement of the lymph nodes in the neck, in front of the shoulders, in the armpits, groin and/or the backs of the knees. (See the photo to the left of external lymph nodes in dogs.) Fortunately, it is a type of cancer that often responds to chemotherapy. When people think about chemotherapy, they often picture the human experience of severe side effects such as hair loss, nausea, and illness. Because people live much longer than dogs, the goal of human chemotherapy is to try to cure the cancer regardless of the severity of the side effects. In veterinary medicine, our goal is to put the cancer into remission so the pet feels good and lives longer. Remission is the state in which tumor symptoms have resolved and the patient is comfortable and indistinguishable from any normal animal. For lymphoma patients, this means that the lymph nodes are not enlarged and any symptoms of the cancer are gone. Each pet is different in terms of how well they respond to chemotherapy and how well they tolerate it, but we work together with the pet’s family to give our patients the best quality of life for as long as we can.
Chemotherapy drugs are often the same in veterinary medicine as they are in human medicine, but given at a lower dosage to minimize side effects. At Animal Hospital of North Asheville, we have performed chemotherapy treatments for many years. We take every precaution to make sure the drugs are given in a way that is safe for the pets, their family, and our staff. We are also happy to refer our cancer patients to a veterinary oncologist (cancer specialist) for evaluation and treatment.
Apollo's family decided to have him treated with a 6 month course of chemotherapy after his diagnosis was confirmed. Dr. Parker asked me to supervise his treatment since I do a lot of the chemotherapy in the hospital. The most common dosing schedule involves weekly to bi-weekly treatments over the course of the 6 months, so Apollo has gotten to know and love all of our Client Care team, technicians, and even his doctor! His treatments are done on an outpatient basis, so Apollo is only with us at AHNA for less than an hour for each treatment. The treatments don’t hurt other than the discomfort of getting an IV catheter placed, and they do not make him feel bad, so to Apollo chemotherapy is seen only as a this great time when he gets lots of love and lots of treats! Due to the toxicity of the drugs used for chemotherapy, we cannot allow Apollo’s family to be at his side during the injection, but a doctor and a staff member are right there with him the entire time. The best news is that Apollo went into remission very quickly and has had no side effects from his treatment. He will receive his final chemo treatment the week after Christmas. We will monitor him closely for any signs of relapse, but hope Apollo will be in remission for another 6-12 months during which he will be thoroughly enjoying life. We will miss seeing him every week and getting his big sloppy kisses, but we are thrilled that he has done so well!