When someone tells you your pet has cancer…‏

What follows is to “compensate” for the totally depressing stories I shared a few weeks ago.

A black dog laying on a white carpet

No one wants to hear their beloved pet has cancer. Especially when that potential diagnosis is conveyed by multiple professionals: the family vet, sometimes an ultrasound specialist, and yours truly, a board-certified surgeon.

But just because the word cancer comes up in the discussion does not mean that is what your pet has, although in the moment that may be all you hear. When faced with the scary idea of “the C word,” always remember one thing: we don’t know until we get the biopsy results.

The following are 5 stories that support the previous statement. There is always hope until we see the biopsy results.

Rori, a Westie

 Rori, a 12 year old Westie, was diagnosed with a lung mass. Her owner was told that statistically, it would most likely be cancer. Rori underwent open chest surgery (thoracotomy) to have her lung mass removed and biopsied.

A benign mass

After a week of agonizing wait, the biopsy revealed… that the tumor was benign (bronchioalveolar adenoma).

Three other dogs had a similar history:

Purdey, an 8 year old Irish Setter

Max, a 10 year old schnauzer

Schen, a 5 year old golden retriever.

All 3 had a mass in an anal gland. Statistically, such a mass is very likely to be cancerous.

The mass was removed and biopsied.

After a week of agonizing wait, the biopsy revealed… a benign condition called chronic anal sacculitis, i.e. long-standing irritation of the anal gland.

 And then there was Scout, the 9 year old female Lab. After several bouts of “bladder infection” and several rounds of antibiotics, she had an ultrasound of the bladder. A bladder mass was found. Statistically, such a mass is very likely to be cancerous (transitional cell carcinoma).

Scout's ultrasound

Scout went to surgery. I removed about one third of her bladder. The bladder mass was removed and biopsied.

After a week of agonizing wait, the biopsy revealed that the mass was… benign! It was a benign polyp.

Moral of the stories

I decided to share these 5 happy stories with you in hopes that you will always remember, should you ever face this situation: we don’t know if a mass is cancerous until the biopsy report says so.


I am very thankful to these 5 clients that they did not give up on their pets.

And I am very thankful to my referring vets that they did not give up on their patients.

“Everybody” just knew they had cancer. But their owners just loved their pet too much and couldn’t put them to sleep without at least the benefit of surgery.

Of course, I am perfectly aware that the diagnosis could just as easily have been cancer. In fact, it was supposed to be, based on experience and statistics. And we talked about the odds, very openly, when we talked before surgery.

All 5 patients were statistically “supposed” to have cancer. But their loving owners, willing to provide the best possible care for their pet, were not going to give up without a fight.

The goals of tumor removal are:

. to obtain a diagnosis

. improve quality of life (e. g. being able to urinate or defecate or breathe)

. increase life span

. and decrease future risks (e.g. decreasing the risk of spreading of cancer).

Don’t lose hope at the mere mention of the word cancer.

Stay positive and wait for the biopsy report.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!