There are cancer treatments for animals as well. What is radiotherapy in cats and what are the possible risks for cats?
The cat is to all intents and purposes a member of our family and learning that it suffers from a disease makes us sad. Sometimes the disease can be subtle and require invasive treatment, as in the case of a tumor. Fortunately, medicine has made great strides for our animals today. The vet might tell us that it is necessary for the cat to undergo radiotherapy, but what could be the risks for our cat?
What is radiotherapy?
Unfortunately we know that not all cancers are resolved with surgery, sometimes additional and / or different therapy is required.
The problem of not always being able to find a cure for cancer lies in the fact that the cancer cell is a cell that has gone mad, it no longer follows any basic rules of biology.
Normally, when a cell inside the organism realizes that it is no longer able to fulfill its functions, it commits suicide, leaving room for new ones (apoptosis).
Well, in a neoplasm this does not happen: the cell continues to duplicate itself indefinitely, affects the surrounding cells and triggers a chain of malfunctions.
When diseased cells migrate to tissues far from the origin of the tumor, other parts of the body are colonized: they are metastases and the body could become invaded.
It goes without saying that it is one thing to diagnose neoplasia at the beginning and another thing is to realize late that our cat has a tumor.
Radiation therapy is indicated for some types of cancer in cats , especially against metabolic or cellular cancers.
Radiation is used to hit the area where the tumor has developed: the DNA of the neoplastic cell is hit and the aim is to condemn it to death.
Those who perform radiotherapy take care to go and preserve the adjacent tissues: the therapy is all the more effective when it reaches the aim of targeting only the diseased cells.
Radiation can be, according to its intensity:
- Ionizing : They have the ability to irreversibly alter the DNA of the cancer cell;
- Non-ionizing , with a lower energy and between 2 and 10V.
How does radiation work?
We said that the goal of radiotherapy is to damage cancer cells to the point of causing their death, but how?
Radiation acts on the neoplastic cell through:
- A direct mechanism : it is their energy directly that causes the fatal damage;
- An indirect mechanism : the radiations produce free radicals which, only subsequently, trigger a series of chemical reactions which consequently lead the cellular tissue to die.
For the damage to its DNA to lead the cell to apoptosis, it is necessary that on its surface there is the protein p53 : if it was not present or if it was insufficiently expressed, radiotherapy would have no effect.
Radiation therapy is used in cats to regress the tumor such as:
- Choice of primary care: there are cases in which it is not possible to perform a surgical removal and this is the only way;
- Choice of pre-operative care: it is used to reduce the size of the neoplasm before removing it;
- Choice of post-operative care: it serves to minimize the risk that some malignant cell that survived the operation could trigger its infinite reproduction process again;
- Temporary choice of treatment: it serves to minimize the symptoms of the disease in order to cancel them. But it is a palliative therapy and is unable to curb the disease itself in any way.
The radiation that hits the cancer cell has as its source:
- An external source : this is the case of teletherapy, through the use of low-energy X-rays (orthovoltage) or high-energy X-rays (megavoltage);
- Temporary application of a radioactive substance, which acts as a source, directly in the cat tumor;
- Intravenous administration of the radioactive substance.
Possible risks and useful tips
Like all treatments, unfortunately, radiotherapy also has its beneficial effects but there is no lack of side effects for the patient.
During the treatment the animals are sedated to keep them still: in this way we try to shield the healthy tissue from radiation as much as possible.
One of the risks for our cat, in fact, is precisely the fact that the radiation affects not only the tumor in the cat but also the surrounding healthy tissues.
Whenever possible, radiotherapy is preferred over surgery, perhaps to try to save the cat from an amputation .
Care must also be taken in the choice of palliative radiotherapy: to avoid chronic pain in the cat, perhaps other worse damages are risked.
It is always important that the side effects of a cure are less than its benefits and that it is a painless therapy for the cat.
Without a doubt, the animal feels weakened and with little strength: for it to go through this hard period at its best, it must be able to live as much as possible in a peaceful and stress- free environment for the cat.
It will not be difficult for him to suffer from loss of appetite and may be grumpy: although each therapy is aimed at improving the quality of life of the animal, unfortunately some adverse effects cannot be avoided.
Sometimes the animal may not want to eat but in this case it is necessary to stimulate the cat to eat so as not to risk anorexia.
The most common side effects in cats due to radiotherapy are:
- Gastrointestinal disorders ;
- Vomiting ;
- Irradiated area of the body reddened : the skin tends to thin and at times the cat could have wounds due to the strong flaking of the skin;
- Balance problems ;
- Vision problems, if the radiation was concentrated in the head;
- Further onset of cancer : it is rare but could occur following repeated radiotherapy, especially when the first courses do not take root.
In any case, it is precisely when our pet is sick that he needs us most: following every indication of the vet and pampering the cat in every way is what we can do to reciprocate his love for us.