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.
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.