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What is Radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is a means of treating certain cancers in the cat. The aim is to damage and kill the cancer cells that make up a tumor, while preserving healthy tissue. Not all cancers are amenable to radiotherapy because of their type or location. Indeed, not all patients are candidates for radiotherapy since each treatment requires a full general anesthetic. 

In addition, there are relatively few specialist centers with the necessary equipment and expertise to offer radiotherapy, which can mean a considerable journey in order to reach an appropriate specialist. This may mean it's not practical to undertake a course of radiotherapy since regular weekly visits are usually required. 

Radiotherapy Procedure in Cats

The patient is carefully screened for suitability to undergo the repeated anesthetics necessary for radiation treatment. Protocols differ but the cat may need repeat sessions on a weekly basis for several weeks, or therapy on alternate days. For the latter it may be best for the cat to be hospitalized for the duration of treatment in order to avoid the rigors of travel. 

It is crucial the cat stays absolutely still during treatment, as movement could lead to irradiation and damage to healthy tissue. The cat will be anesthetized and monitored remotely using equipment that reads out in the adjacent viewing room. 

The first session likely involves a fresh CT scan (even if the cat has had a previous scan as part of the diagnostic work up) so that the exact tumor margins can be assessed and the radiotherapy beam focussed in exactly the correct place. 

Fur will the shaved and the skin marked up with a permanent marker to facilitate positioning of the radiation beam. The duration of each exposure will depend on the type, size, and location of the tumor. 

After each irradiation, the patient wakes up and is allowed home, usually the same day (for those not boarding at the hospital).

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Efficacy of Radiotherapy in Cats

Radiotherapy is rarely the first option for treating a tumor. Where, possible complete surgical removal  or chemotherapy is prefered. However, for tumors that are not suitable for surgery, radiotherapy offers a highly effective, and life-extending treatment. 

Radiotherapy is not used in the same way in cats as in people. In the latter, much higher doses of radiation are used with the aim of curing in the patient. However, much lower doses are used in cats, with the aim of extending good quality life (rather than a cure) with a minimal amount of distress to the patient.

Radiotherapy is very good at what it does, which is: 

  • Destroying tumors at inaccessible sites
  • Shrinking down tumor size
  • Pain relief
  • Part of a wider spectrum of treatments which may include chemotherapy or surgery
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Radiotherapy Recovery in Cats

Lower doses of radiation are used in cats, which means less discomfort post-treatment. Once awake from the anesthetic the cat may experience a short period of discomfort but this soon passes. Indeed, radiation is sometimes used for pain relief as it also damages the nerve supply to the tumor. 

In the longer term, the fur in the irradiated area may grow back white. Also, the irradiated skin may be lesion resilient in the future and more prone to infection or damage, but this is easily managed with appropriate antibiotic cover. 

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Cost of Radiotherapy in Cats

Not only is the actual procedure expensive but there will be associated costs such as for travel and accommodation for those who live some distance from the referral center. 

A consultation with a veterinary oncologist can be around $250 - $300. A repeat CT scan is needed, at around $630 - $2,000. The cost of a remotely monitored anesthetic will vary according to the length of each treatment. The most sophisticated anesthetic agents are used, and typically anesthesia comes in at $140 or more. Finally, comes the cost of the actual radiation treatment itself. The cost will vary widely depending on whether the aim is to kill the cancer or provide palliative care, but is likely to be thousands of dollars. 

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Cat Radiotherapy Considerations

Radiotherapy is a relatively new science for the treatment of cats. It offers the potential to extend life in what might otherwise be hopeless cases, but unfortunately the therapy is costly and not widely available. 

Before you commit to a course of radiotherapy it is important to weigh up the character of your cat and how they will cope with travel and repeated anesthetics. For example, if they hate travelling and spend the next two months making long journeys on a weekly basis, and radiotherapy only extends life by four months, then you have to weigh up if this is truly beneficial to the cat or not. 

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Radiotherapy Prevention in Cats

Radiotherapy is often used when surgery is not an option. By being vigilant and checking your cat weekly for lumps, you are more likely to detect tumors at a stage when they are still amenable to surgical removal. 

Most cancers in cats occur spontaneously, and so prevention of cancer is a goal yet to be achieved. 

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Radiotherapy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Indi

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short hair

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11 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Vommiting
Vommiting No Appetite

Since my cat has had radiotherapy for a nasal tumour he has stopped eating and drinking ( we feed and hydrate him with a syringe ) we were told that apart from sores , ( which we were given cream for ) he wouldn’t experience any other side effects. After we feed him he will hide so he is obviously experiencing discomfort after he eats and he vomits often after he eats. He is also hunched over slightly. He did have some constipation which we have treated and we thought that the problem would be resolved but it has not. He has had chemotherapy before the radio therapy but after the rumour in his lymph node returned we opted for radiotherapy as we were told he wouldn’t experience side effects other than blistering. He has lost weight and is slightly unsteady on his feet at times ( not often ) he has had blood tests which have come back normal. No obvious signs of cancer returning. Constipation seems resolved. He has the want to eat but we think he can’t smell which stops him committing to eating , that and him feeling unwell after he eats. When we feed him with a syringe he eats but not with any great commitment. Could he have ulcers as a result of prednisone? he is 11 years old

July 29, 2018

Indi's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Radiotherapy is generally minimal with side effects compared with chemotherapy or other treatments; however there are many causes for a lack of appetite and thirst which may include pain, enlarged lymph node in the throat, nausea, medication side effects (prednisolone normally causes an increase in thirst and appetite) among many other conditions. Corticosteroids are associated with gastrointestinal ulceration in literature but is generally uncommon. Without examining Indi I cannot pinpoint a specific cause for the symptoms but you should return to your Veterinarian to determine the cause and monitor. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 30, 2018

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Stanzie

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Siamese

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Itching
Eye Itching
Eye Redness
Vomiting
Watery Eye
Sneeze

My 8-9 year old female Siamese mix, Stanzie, had been suffering with what we thought was feline herpes, for six months. No antibiotics were working, so I put her through a CT scan and immediate surgery. They removed a ton of inner ear infection (benign) and nasal cavity infection (lymphoma). The oncologist won't even talk to me until 2 weeks after surgery (next week) and the 1st appt I could get is a week after that. I am losing my mind, waiting 3 weeks just to have a basic, introductory conversation. I have no idea what to expect, what to ask, what kind of meds she might need, why they haven't prescribed something immediately... I'm going crazy. Any help?

July 3, 2018

Stanzie's Owner

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I understand that it can be frustrating waiting to hear back from the Oncologist, but without having all the medical records, histopathology report and examining Stanzie myself; this isn’t a straightforward case. I know it is difficult to stay patient but it would be best to wait for the Oncologist to discuss the case with you, most likely he is waiting on some test results before committing to a particular treatment plan. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 4, 2018

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Louise

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Russian Blue Eye

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7 Years

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Fibrosarcoma

Good day, my cat has Fibrosarcoma and has had 2 operations between her should blades. the 1st one was at the end of January 2018 and the second one was 2 months later in march 2018. so it is very aggressive, however, my cat is only 7 years old. we have been advised to give her radiation, but they said she will need about 15 sessions, each time she will be sedated (My cat is very skittish and hates travelling and doesnt really like being sedated). she will have to have 4 sessions a week and once the 15 sessions are over there is no way to tell if it has worked or not. I would just like to know if it is so aggressive would radiation really pro-long her life much longer and is it worth her going through the trauma?

April 20, 2018

Louise's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Radiation therapy will give her the best chance of not having the fibrosarcoma come back, since it does seem to be quite aggressive. Whether the radiation would prolong her life is difficult to predict, as it will depend on how the cancer responds. You will need to decide whether to take that chance with the possibility that it will help, unfortunately. I hope that all goes well for her.

April 20, 2018

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Smokie

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Russian Blue

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13 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Lump

My 13 y/o male russian blue has been diagnosed with Chondrosarcoma and the tumor is between his ear and throat and surgery will not be an option. Radiation therapy has been offered as an option. The cat is not symptomatic right now, and other than the lump seems unphased. Do you think Radiation is a good course to take in order to shrink the tumor and what in your opinion will it do for extending his life. Thanks!

April 4, 2018

Smokie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Without seeing Smokie or knowing more about his situation, I can't comment on his specific case, but if radiation therapy has been recommended, it would be a good idea to have that done to try and slow down or stop the progression of the tumor. it would be best to discuss risks, and benefits, with your current veterinarian, as they know more about his particular situation.

April 5, 2018

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Samijou Hunter Milo

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Short hair domestic

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15 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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How will my cat fare? My 15+ old cat has been diagnosed with nasal cancer almost 3 weeks ago. His recent blood work 3 weeks ago was good but the one 3 months ago wasnt for his kidneys. Each bloodwork varies somewhat and he gets bloodwork done every 3 months. He is being treated for kidney disease (3 years now on fluids), and on meds for a 15 months now for hyperthyroid (Tapazole) and IBS (Prednisolone). He also has severe arthritis. My cat has sensitivities to meds. So he is on low doses of all meds he takes. For example, If he is given a med to calm down (a full dose) he wont sleep for 24 hrs. Same with full doses of pain meds. We went to an oncologist who offers the 3 different radiation therapies at different costs. All he said was his bloodwork looks good and we offer 3 different radiation therapies. He explained the 3. When I tried to explain my cats health issues all he said was that the bloodwork is fine. I personally dont think my cat will fare well having to be put under for 3-5 days straight for the most expensive radiation therapy which is around $12K for which the oncologist said he can live up to a year. The other treatment which is about 10k is 20 treatments and palliative is 5 treatments. My issue is how will my cat fare at his age with all his medical issues. The radiation place is only a 30 min drive. My cat travels all over california so traveling isnt an issue. He is my road trip buddy and loves to see new things.

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Simba

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Bengal

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3 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Hiding, Decreased Appetite, Weaknes

My 3 years old cat was diagnosed with the squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil in March 2018. He is been on a chemotherapy (Palladia three times a week) for 6 months. My cat tolerate it extremely well. He ate, played and was in a good mood. Then our oncologist offered us Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy. In August we had third CT scan and 5 radiation treatments. After oncology recheck our doctor told that my cat is doing great, his tumor much smaller and he needs to continue to take Palladia. Also he got ear mites and was prescribed Revolution blue single Med. But unfortunately my cat lost appetite and his interest in life. He stop playing. He hides from me and looks scared and unhappy. Last Thursday I took him to ER. After Ultrasound, X Ray, Blood test and pancreatitis test was done a doctor gave us pain killers and pills for appetite. He said that possibly he has pain in his throat. After radiation treatment he supppsed to feel better and his tumor shrinks. So why after therapy? He was so good on Palladia my handsome three years old Bengal boy :(((

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