Before a treatment plan can be made for an individual pet, the cancer must be precisely identified, usually through a biopsy; the extent and possible spread of the cancer must be evaluated (referred to as staging), often through x-rays and lymph node or bone marrow biopsies; and the dog’s general health and ability to tolerate the proposed treatment must be evaluated with a thorough physical exam, blood tests, and sometimes an electrocardiogram (EKG) or ultrasound exam of the heart.

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Easy reference list of tests commonly used to diagnose cancer and identify the right treatment plan:

  • Physical exam: Takes into account weight, a dental check, rectal exam, blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Blood tests: Includes a complete blood count and blood chemistry panel. A blood count looks at the blood cells themselves and provides information about things such as infection, hydration status, anemia and blood clotting ability. A blood chemistry panel identifies warning signs of liver, kidney and hormonal diseases.
  • Urinalysis: Your vet will evaluate the color, clarity, and concentration of your pet’s urine to detect any abnormalities in a number of body systems.
  • X-rays: Are most useful for evaluating the chest, bones, joints and abdomen.
  • Ultrasound: This test uses high-frequency sound waves to detect problems in the heart, spleen, liver and other soft organs. It’s better at finding tumors, swellings, and fluid accumulation.
  • CAT scan: Short for computerized axial tomography. A thin beam of x-rays passes through a cross-section of the body in a rotational manner. Using a computer, the scans can be viewed as a three-dimensional image to evaluate subtle changes in tissue.
  • MRI scan: Short for magnetic resonance imaging. This test uses radio waves and magnetic fields to create images, providing precise views of soft tissues like the liver and brain.
  • Fluoroscopy: Is the use of x-ray imaging technique using a fluoroscope where real-time moving images of organs can be obtained.
  • Biopsy: Is a sample of tissue from a growth or organ that is examined microscopically.
    Fine needle aspiration: Is a simple type of biopsy in which a needle is inserted into a lump or lymph node and a syringe is used to draw a drop of the contents to be examined under a microscope.
  • Lymph-node biopsy: Is the removal and examination of an entire lymph node to check for metastasis (or spread) of cancer from its original site.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: Is used to check for leukemia and other cancers of the blood.