What is Stereotactic Radiation Therapy?

Stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT) is a non-invasive medical procedure that does not require heavy amounts of anesthetic. SRT’s goal is to precisely target tumors without harming surrounding healthy tissue, making it a unique radiation therapy option.

The SRT process can begin at any point once a tumor is discovered. However, due to that fact that it is a relatively new curative treatment, other options are chosen more frequently by pet-owners. A veterinarian professional may recommend stereotactic radiation therapy if you prefer treatment with less risk of issues during open surgery. Although a relatively new treatment, SRT is sought by pet owners who seek a more direct and precise curative treatment. 

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Stereotactic Radiation Therapy Procedure in Dogs

When you make the decision to treat your dog with SRT, the first step of a veterinarian team will be to ascertain the tumor’s size, shape, and location utilizing computerized imaging. Scanning processes reveal the approximate surface area and volume of the tumor, aiding veterinary oncologists with a 3-D image of the cancerous tissue. 

After the details are assessed, tumors are targeted rapidly and at higher doses than conventional tactics, with the goal being to eliminate tumor cells, slow their growth, and prevent any future developments. This process is accomplished with the utilization of a CyberKnife. 

CyberKnife technology is what makes SRT comparatively unique and successful. As no incisions are made, the CyberKnife is not actually a knife, but a series of computer-operated beams that efficiently cover the entire surface area of a tumor. The intense accuracy the CyberKnife achieves gives SRT its edge: the expected symptoms of typical radiation therapy (vomiting, fatigue, weakness) are not present because only cancerous tissue is exposed to the radiation. 

During the treatment, immobilization devices are used by vet practitioners. These devices are meant to keep the dog completely still so that the radiation is aimed precisely at the tumor. Due to the wide range of dog shapes and sizes, immobilization devices are tailored to the proportions of the animal. This equipment is cushioned to help ensure your pet is as comfortable as possible during the procedure. 

Depending on the unique circumstances of your dog and the tumor, more than one visit and dosage of radiation may be necessary. Each additional visit to complete the SRT process will call for scans to update the veterinary team on the status and position of the tumor.

The utilization of medical methods and equipment, such as an Onboard Imager (OBI) as well as cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) assist veterinary professionals in maintaining accuracy with every treatment, if more than one is required. 

Efficacy of Stereotactic Radiation Therapy in Dogs

Veterinarian professionals cite SRT as one of the most advantageous methods of curative treatment in dogs. Average life span after treatment is lengthened for veterinary patients. Furthermore, the dog suffers little disruption from their daily routine after SRT is successfully completed, allowing them to get back to a normal life.  

Stereotactic Radiation Therapy Recovery in Dogs

The care needed for your dog after the SRT procedure is little. After treatment, your dog may seem slightly weak or drowsy as anesthesia wears off. Other than this potential drowsiness, pets should be back to their normal selves in a few hours. Your veterinarian will release your pet with no needed overnight stays as no stitching or healing process is needed. 

Cost of Stereotactic Radiation Therapy in Dogs

SRT costs typically range from $2,000 to $9,000. Due to the fact that the final cost of the procedure relies on individual circumstances (i.e. the size of your dog, the number or size of tumors, etc.), this cost can be more. While you may save money on less office visits, no required overnight healing, and lack of administered anesthesia, the process of SRT relies on computer imaging formed through CT scans ($500 upwards), x-rays ($150 upwards), MRIs (upwards of $1,400), or ultrasounds ($260 upwards).

Dog Stereotactic Radiation Therapy Considerations

Reactions to stereotactic radiation therapy range from shedding to inflammation of the colon and/or mouth and tongue, as well as patchy, irritated skin. Other side effects as a result of SRT may be non-existent due to the treatment’s ability to pinpoint cancer tissue without unsettling non-cancerous surrounding tissue.

However, due to SRT’s use of higher dosage, side effects may begin to occur late after its completion, such as:

  • Fibrosis – aching joints, fatigue, rapid weight loss, discomfort when walking or running
  • Alopecia – hair loss, anxiety, itching, irritated skin
  • Hypopigmentation – loss of natural coat color, itching
  • Necrosis – lethargy, discomfort walking or running, loss of appetite 

Veterinarians are aware of these potential developments. Many will prepare as best they can to avoid the development of late side effects. When blanketed, curative treatments for animals often result in less than 5% experiencing long-lasting, negative effects.

Despite these possible side effects, other curative treatments for cancer often require multiple visits to the vet, typically adding up to as many as 20 treatments over the course of less than a month. SRT can be beneficial for both you and your pet as it comparatively requires fewer visits. Furthermore, due to the accuracy of SRT, your pet may experience no radiation illness. 

Stereotactic Radiation Therapy Prevention in Dogs

There are a number of suggestions pet owners may follow in order to help their dog avoid developing cancer:

Frequent Appointments and Exams

Scheduling frequent check-ups with a veterinarian is important when ensuring your dog is the healthiest they can be. Early detection of cancer is noted as one of the best preventative steps you can take. Frequent check-ups may ensure any possible cancer is caught quickly, as well as provide insight on preventative vaccinations. 

Consider Spaying and Neutering

The removal of reproductive organs will prevent any testicular or mammary cancer in your dog. 

Pursue a Healthy Lifestyle

While the inclusion of certain foods in your dog’s diet aren’t cited by veterinary professionals as cancer-preventative, keeping your pet healthy is always helpful. Research proper food for your dog, noting any allergies, and always make a point to play with your dog to get them moving and exerting energy, keeping their heart healthy.

Know your Pet 

Some breeds of dog are more prone to cancer than others. Before adopting or after, educate yourself on the genealogy and history your pet. Be aware of the potential of cancer as well as signs of symptoms.

Keeping your dog healthy can often mean a healthier lifestyle for yourself, as well. Frequently protecting them from ticks and fleas with proper medication lessens your risk of contracting a disease. Similarly, not smoking around your dog lessens both of your chances of developing cancer, and forming a routine in which you both go for long walks or jogs together keep you both physically and mentally healthier.