The word cancer sends chills up our collective spines as we are given the news about a lump or a growth or an enlargement in any area of our body. Sometimes there is no enlarged organ or tissue, but we just are not feeling right or strong or our health is not what it used to be. We sometimes can even be weaker than normal and have no appetite.

Maybe we are getting sick more often that normal or that is expected during times of the year when we are normally healthy and active. Maybe we just do not feel like doing the things that we normally do and there is no emotional or psychological explanation for our malaise or lack of energy.

Cancer is a term that has come to be known as a “death sentence” for most of us. When reading early obituaries or death certificates when doing family history research, quite often the cause of death is listed as cancer. For normal cells to change and not respond to the normal control and feedback mechanism that the body employs to control cell growth and division there has to be some kind of change in the chemical structure of the cells that is passed on to other daughter cells during the process of cell division or mitosis.

This loss of control or the abnormal division process creates cells and groups of cells that are under their own control and do not respond to the signals the body gives normally dividing cells to divide or to stop dividing or to grow or not to grow. The mechanisms that develop to have this control mechanism not work are partially known, but mostly the sequence and frequency of this developmental process is still to be discovered.

The center of this process is in the genome of the cell. The chemicals and molecules that make up the genetic code of normal cells have programmed into them the response and feedback mechanisms necessary to have the organism develop as needed and in an expected sequence to the adult form with all of the parts and organs working properly.

When something disturbs this process in the genetic code and the code is changed, the normalcy is lost and the cells that are present are in control of their own destiny and do not respond to normal signals given to them by the body for maintenance and growth. Sometimes these cells just grow in the local area and change by simply dividing and expanding in the space where they begin. If they do not spread to other areas by way of the lymphatic or circulatory system, then we consider these benign growths. The first thing that we check is all of the regional lymph nodes when we do a physical exam. If they are enlarged, then we already know that the tumor has spread throughout the body.

Cancer can be treated, usually by surgical excision of the lump, but sometimes conventional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation is used. What we have to do is look at the cost and the potential for quality of life as treatment would progress and then make the decision to treat or not to treat based on what is good for the dog.