Radiation Treatment

  • When will my pet start radiation treatment?

Similar to other treatments, we will need to do staging prior to starting radiation. As well, we will need to do a radiation planning CT scan prior to starting radiation. From there, the radiation oncologist will use this CT to develop a treatment plan for your pet. There will be period of 1-3 days between the treatment planning CT scan and starting radiation. We often start radiation treatments on the Monday after the initial diagnostic work up.

  • What type of radiation therapy will my pet have?

We have a state of the art radiation unit and we can offer all types or radiation, including radiosurgery, full course radiation and palliative radiation. These different types of radiation all have very specific indications. We will discuss the recommended radiation treatment for your pet’s condition with you.

  • Does my dog have to stay in the hospital for radiation therapy?

If your pet is treated with full course radiation, this is generally administered daily Monday-Friday. Depending on where you live, your pet may stay with us during the week, or be dropped off on Mondays to go home on Friday, or stay with us during the entire course of radiation. We will accommodate whatever will work best for you.

  • What type of radiation side effects can I expect?

This will depend on the type of radiation that is recommended for your pet. If your pet has full-course radiation, which means daily radiation doses for 3-4 weeks, Monday-Friday, then side effects are expected. The side effects that occur with radiation are generally associated with inflammation of the affected tissue. They often start 2-3 weeks into the course or radiation and will last for 1-2 weeks after the radiation is finished. We will give your pet local and systemic treatments to help them through the radiation and we will discuss the anticipated side effects with you.

  • Will my pet have to be anesthetized during radiation?

General anesthesia is necessary for radiation in animals to keep them still during the treatment. Radiation therapy is not painful when it is administered. We may recommend that a vascular access port be placed surgically during the beginning of radiation to make it easier to anesthetize your pet for daily radiation treatment.

  • My pet has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Can I come in for stereotactic radiosurgery?

We have the facilities to do radiosurgery for brain tumors. We will need to assess your pet through our service or our neurology service. Advanced imaging will be needed to diagnose the brain tumor and for radiation planning. From there, we can discuss the best recommendations for your pet’s brain tumor.

Meet one of our patients – he has a skin cancer called a mast cell tumor.
Let’s follow our patient through a radiation treatment.

A linear accelerator produces a beam of photons or electrons to kill cancer cells. The UF Small Animal Hospital oncology service has the most advanced radiation facility for treating pets in the Southeastern United States.

First the radiation therapist prepares the room. Then takes the patient from the oncology ward to the linear accelerator. Special ports beneath the skin are often used in radiation patients to administer drugs painlessly. Our patient is given a light anesthetic through the port to relax him and keep him still during his treatment. A tube is passed into his airway and he is given oxygen throughout the procedure. Our patient is placed into a specially made mold. This mold allows his body (and the cancer, marked with a blue cross) to be in the same position every day of treatment.

The table is moved into position, the lights dimmed, and lasers are used to align the mold to exactly match the position of the previous day’s treatment. Here you can see the cross hairs on the mold are being lined up with the red laser cross hairs.  Two arms move into position – these will take a real time CT scan to help finely tune patient positioning. The entire gantry is then rotated around the patient to ensure there are no obstructions to movement. Finally a thick layer called ‘bolus’ is placed over the skin to increase the radiation dose to the cancer scar. Everyone leaves the radiation room, and a heavy lead-lined door seals the vault.

The anesthetist monitors the patient by remotely-controlled cameras from the control room. A CT is then taken – you can see the circular metal port in our patient’s neck used to anesthetize him. The therapist uses the CT to take today’s position and exactly match it to the daily treatment plan. The plan is finalized and radiation delivered. Now the treatment is over.  Short-acting anesthetics are used to allow patients to wake quickly once treatment is over. This may be one treatment out of 18 or 20 and so we want the experience to be safe and easy. Within 30 minutes our patient is up and about and soon is ready to go back to mom. They are happily re-united.