Veterinary Palliative Radiation Therapy

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

Veterinary palliative therapy is a philosophy of care in which the goal is to maximize comfort and quality of life when long-term cancer control or cure is not possible. Palliative radiation is one way of providing comfort focused care. The goals of palliative therapy are to provide symptom-relief.

Palliative radiation therapy can be used to control the symptoms associated with many localized tumors that cannot be treated by other methods (such as surgical removal). These symptoms include pain, bleeding, and decreased function. Radiation may be combined with anti-inflammatory and pain medications to maximize the relief of cancer-related symptoms. 

Radiation therapy is particularly useful in alleviating pain associated with tumors that are arising from, or invading into bone. About two thirds of patients have moderate to significant improvement, and the effects can last for a few weeks to several months. Decrease in symptoms can occur as quickly as several days after the first treatment, or it may take a few weeks before improvement is seen.

Delivery of palliative radiation typically involves administering a few large doses of radiation over several weeks. In most cases, palliative radiation therapy is a one-time course of treatment and cannot be repeated. Each treatment requires light anesthesia because the patient must be completely still during the procedure. 

Side effects are minimal, and are usually limited to the area receiving radiation. They start after about three to four weeks from the first treatment and last for a few weeks. The radiated area will be pink to red and hairless and there may be some mild flaking or crusting of the skin. Treatments of these side effects include the use of topical medications and preventing your pet from licking, rubbing, or scratching at the treated area. Eventually the skin in this area will become very dark to black, and some sparse hair may regrow. Long term side effects (such as the risk of non-healing wounds) take many months or years to occur, and are typically not a problem because most patients undergoing palliative care have a life expectancy of less than one year due to their cancer.

To learn more about the specialty of veterinary radiation oncology, how to find a specialist and common questions; visit the American College of Veterinary Radiology.

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