Many people associate chemotherapy with adverse side effects. This association can make owners hesitant to pursue chemotherapy for their pets. Fortunately, the risk of adverse effects is low and many adverse effects can be prevented with quality pre-emptive care. When side effects do occur, most are mild and self-limiting. Consider the following statistics:
- Less than 1 in 3 animals experience adverse side effects from chemotherapy.
- Most chemotherapy protocols have a less than 5% incidence of severe complications.
- Owners are usually happy with their decisions to treat their pets. A study of owners who pursued chemotherapy for their cats found that quality of life scores improved after chemotherapy and nearly 90% of the owners said they would pursue chemotherapy again to treat another pet.
The most common adverse effects of chemotherapy are neutropenia and gastrointestinal problems (nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea). Chemotherapy drugs do not differentiate between tumor cells and rapidly dividing normal cells, which means that normal bone marrow stem cells and gastrointestinal crypt cells are particularly sensitive to the effects of these drugs.
Many side effects can be prevented or minimized with quality pre-emptive care. For example, some side effects can be prevented if specific interventions are given at the time of chemotherapy administration. This is important because when side effects occur owners can become hesitant to continue a treatment, even if it is working.
If side effects occur despite pre-emptive care, it is important to intervene quickly and effectively to minimize risk and cost. Therefore, it is critical to have a protocol in place ahead of time to deal with potential adverse effects. Speedy intervention also requires close attention to clinical signs. Intervention can mean a dose reduction, a change in drug, or administration of additional medication. In 90% of cases, these changes effectively minimize the side effects.
At Oncura Partners, we believe patients should be comfortable and pain-free during treatment. We know that pre-emptive care and the management of side effects are critical to the quality of life of patients and provide the best opportunity to complete treatment and enhance patients' responses to treatment. Our board-certified oncologists have the expertise to help guide treating veterinarians through the prevention and management of adverse side effects.