Presenter: Dr Chiara Penzo DVM PhD DipECVIM-CA(Oncology) MRCVS European Specialist in Veterinary Oncology
Telling an owner their beloved pet has cancer is hard enough, but convincing them to go ahead with treatment can be even more challenging. Dr Chiara Penzo, a European Specialist in Veterinary Oncology, was the speaker at last week’s webinar and centred her discussions around how to face these challenges and get the best outcome for both pet and owner.

Dr Penzo explained that it’s hardly surprising that owners are anxious about cancer therapy for their pets. ‘Cancer’ is a word no-one wants to hear and figures have shown it to be the largest health concern among pet owners, and as the leading cause of disease related death in cats and dogs, owners should be worried.

Many owners will have had their own personal experiences related to cancer and be aware of many treatment side effects including sickness, hair loss and a general decline in quality of life. Of course many in the veterinary profession will also have had their own experiences and, understandably, a negative approach to cancer and cancer therapy could also be adopted by members of the profession.

The key in getting owners to at least consider cancer therapy is, according to Dr Penzo, using appropriate wording when having initial discussions about their pet’s diagnosis. Using words like ‘guarded’, ‘poor’ and ‘bad’ can really re-enforce the feelings of an owner already in a negative state of mind. These ‘words’ should be avoided unless certain of an outcome which is hopeless. An owner should be told about ‘what we can do’ for their pet using phrases such as “we can help” and “we can improve quality of life”. These are the concerns that owners are likely to have at this stage rather than the technicalities of particular cancer types.

It is also worth remembering that during an initial consultation, owners are likely to be upset and may not be listening to everything a vet has to say. For this reason, always consider asking whether owners would like to discuss treatment options at another time.

When discussions do arise about treatment modalities for particular cancer types, reassuring owners that chemotherapy is well tolerated in animals and only 5% of pets suffer from side effects is a helpful place to start. Some owners may be keen to find out what happens if no treatment is given and in these cases always stress that treatment is given to prevent a deterioration in quality of life which will inevitably occur without treatment.

Numbers and statistics of survival rates are also useful for these particular questions. Dr Penzo used a table specifying a number of the more aggressive cancers and survival rates associated with various treatment modalities. Quoting these statistics can be very useful during discussions and I have already printed off a copy for my consulting room.

It was refreshing to participate in CPD which considered the topic of oncology from a different viewpoint. Instead of hearing about chemotherapy protocols it was useful to hear Dr Penzo’s experiences on how to communicate effectively with clients about this emotive subject. After all if you can’t convince the owners to move forward with cancer therapy there seems little point in learning about all the details of this complex subject matter.


The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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