Radiotherapy, also known as radiation therapy, is often used to attack localised areas of cancer growth. It is a common method of cancer treatment in dogs and other pets as well as humans. Unlike some other cancer fighting technologies such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy requires special equipment and not all veterinarian offices are capable of performing the procedure. If a tumour is inoperable, radiation therapy is the best solution for treatment in dogs.
Radio beams containing photons, gamma rays or electrons are aimed directly at a tumour using an accelerator to shoot the rays at a specific area in an effort to destroy the cancer cells. There are also some types of radiation therapy where a capsule containing radiation is injected into the area where the cancer is present. This type of radiation therapy is known as Brachytherapy.
Radiotherapy is a process directed at a particular area so the patient must remain completely still during the procedure. Because it is impossible to keep a dog completely still just by telling them to not move, it is necessary to anaesthetise them for the radiation treatment.
Many cancers respond positively to radiotherapy. In dogs, this type of cancer treatment is most often used in nasal, brain, mouth and skin cancers. Some cancers are completely eradicated and some are just slowed down. It is important to know that not all cancer tumours will respond positively to any one treatment and may require other types of treatments in combination with or instead of radiotherapy and that, in some cases, nothing will eliminate the cancer.
Risks and Side Effects
In some cases, radiation therapy can be toxic to pets; however, those are rare cases. More common side effects include a sunburn-like burn on the skin in the area where the radiation is directed, hair loss, odour from the dying cancer cells especially in nasal or oral tumours. When radiation therapy is used on certain areas of the body, it can cause damage to other organs or tissues in the area. There are also general risks involved with accompanying procedures such as anesthetic use.
Radiotherapy often requires several treatments and the costs average between £585 and £2,275 per series, depending on the types of equipment used, the lab expenses and professional fees.