Cryotherapy: Treating Pet Tumors Through Proven Science
By: Ian Nicholson | Dec 27, 2022
Finding a strange lump on your pet’s body can feel pretty scary. You may wonder: Is it cancer, a benign growth, or something else altogether? Until you get your furry friend examined by your veterinarian, you’re in the dark. With the 25% likelihood that your pet may develop a tumor during their lifetime, the need for early treatment becomes more salient. Cryotherapy is an ideal solution, allowing for minimally invasive tumor removal. You can potentially bypass the health risks, discomfort, and expense associated with many forms of pet cancer.
What Is Neoplasia?
You may hear the term “neoplasia” used for both cancerous and noncancerous growths. While it generally refers to any abnormal mass in the body, your vet may use the term when talking about irregular surface lumps on your pet’s skin. Also called neoplasms or tumors, these growths fall into two categories: benign and malignant.
Neoplasms occur when cells stray from their normal division and growth patterns, usually because their DNA instructions have become damaged or corrupted. Benign tumors usually do not spread to other regions of the body. But malignant tumors do — these out-of-control collections of cells invade healthy tissues and steal precious resources to fuel further growth. Only malignant growths are cancerous: Benign ones are not.
Why is Early Diagnosis and Treatment Critical?
You can’t tell if a tumor’s benign or malignant just by looking at it. Your veterinarian must diagnose it to get more information. If your pet’s tumor is small, your vet may recommend a “watch and wait” approach — watching for changes in size, shape, or color.
While the intent may be to save money on diagnostic testing and possibly avoid putting your pet through discomfort, there’s a major drawback to the watch and wait approach: You lack information about the tumor itself. Because you don’t know whether it’s cancerous or not, you can’t take advantage of preliminary treatment options such as cryotherapy.
Should your pet’s tumor prove to be malignant, your treatment options may be limited to traditional surgery, along with chemotherapy or radiation. Besides resulting in more discomfort for your pet, this also leads to more expensive vet bills for therapies and follow-up. Moreover, the cancer may metastasize to the point where successful treatment is impossible.
How Often Do Pets Develop Tumors?
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 1 in 4 dogs develop neoplasms at some point in their lives. Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center reveals that 1 in 5 cats are diagnosed with cancer.
As pets age, any tumors they develop are more likely to be malignant. The AVMA mentions that 50% of dogs over age 10 are diagnosed with some form of cancer. We currently don’t have equivalent statistics on cats, but we do know that their risk of developing malignant tumors is four times that of dogs. Also, the chance of malignant tumors in both species increases by 20% every three years.
How Do Veterinarians Diagnose Cancerous Tumors?
Diagnosing cancer in pets isn’t much different than with humans. Veterinarians often start with physical exams. Imaging techniques can include X-rays, ultrasound, and CT scans. Laboratory tests can include blood work and cytology, in which a tiny sample of a tumor is withdrawn through a fine needle and examined under a microscope. Depending on the location and nature of a tumor, a biopsy may be needed.
However, early excision of an abnormal mass with methods like cryotherapy changes this diagnostic trajectory. Once a tumor has been separated from your pet’s body, your veterinarian can send a sample of it for lab analysis. Should tests reveal that it was cancerous, early treatment prevents its growth and possible spread to other regions of the body.
What Is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is an alternative to traditional surgery for removing abnormal masses. Several techniques exist, but they’re all based on one key principle: freezing and removing unwanted tissue with precisely targeted applications of extreme cold. You may also see these treatments referred to as cryosurgery or cryoablation. They’ve already been used to treat human cancers, including early-stage skin carcinomas and breast cancer.
What’s the Science Behind Cryoablation?
Like humans, animals’ bodies consist of up to 70% water. Extreme cold causes the formation of intracellular ice crystals that damage cells, restrict blood flow, and cut off oxygen supply in living tissues. Eventually, these tissues can die off. Cryoablation uses this normally harmful process to shrink and kill both benign and malignant tumors.
What Cryotherapy Technologies Do Veterinarians Use?
Cryotherapies involve applying extremely cold gases to affected areas. Traditionally, these methods have used supercooled liquid nitrogen, nitrous oxide, or compressed argon gas to achieve frigid temperatures and destroy abnormal masses. Practitioners administer these cryogens with a spray, a foam swab, or a cryoprobe.
Newer techniques use carbon dioxide delivered by cryoprobes to achieve the same quality outcomes at a lower cost. Kubunda Cryotherapy is a Maryland-based firm offering CO2-based cryoablation technology. Because carbon dioxide is much easier to source, this method is more affordable than other cryogenic techniques. Recent studies have proven the effectiveness of CO2-based cryotherapy. With a 95% success rate for removing smaller tumors, it’s an effective alternative to the “watch and wait” approach.
What Kinds of Tumors Can Cryotherapy Treat?
Veterinarians mostly use cryoablation to treat external tumors in dogs and cats. These include common masses found on the torso, along with those in delicate or difficult-to-reach areas such as the mouth, eyelids, paws, face, back and rear end. Some internal tumors, such as those in the liver or mammary glands, may be excellent candidates for cryosurgery. Besides the obvious therapeutic benefits, cryotherapy also numbs nerve endings in surrounding tissues. This can reduce an animal’s pain during recovery.
Besides malignant tumors, cryotherapy can also treat benign masses. While these aren’t cancerous, they can also cause discomfort by irritating the skin and surrounding tissue. In some cases, these masses can eventually grow larger and become invasive. Cryoablation offers the same benefits for treating benign growths: less discomfort, minimal scarring, faster recovery times and lower risk of infection.
What Should I Expect During My Pet’s Cryosurgery?
Pets are given some form of anesthesia during cryotherapy procedures. After freezing the offending tissues, their cells are gradually reabsorbed by the body’s immune system. During each treatment, healthy surrounding tissue is protected to avoid damage. Aftercare usually focuses on keeping the area clean to avoid complications.
The critical importance of prompt treatment of pet tumors cannot be overstated. Partnering with your veterinarian is vital to giving your companion the best possible outcomes. Newer cryotherapy methods such as Kubunda’s CO2-based technologies treat malignant masses before they worsen and metastasize. With shortened recovery times, minimal discomfort, and lower-cost treatments, everyone benefits.
Disclaimer: healthcareforpets.com and its team of veterinarians and clinicians do not endorse any products, services, or recommended advice. All advice presented by our veterinarians, clinicians, tools, resources, etc is not meant to replace a regular physical exam and consultation with your primary veterinarian or other clinicians. We always encourage you to seek medical advice from your regular veterinarian.