Champaign, Ill. (WCIA) – We’re learning how new state-of-the-art technology is being used to benefit pets and people with cancer.

Dr. Kimberly Selting with the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital has two areas of specialization: medical oncology and radiation oncology.

Dr. Selting has overseen the acquisition and installation of a TrueBeam Linear Accelerator. The College of Veterinary Medicine dedicated the new technology with a celebration on Monday, June 10. Already cancer patients at our hospital are going to be treated with this state-of-the-art technology. The linear accelerator will also advance research to benefit pets and people with cancer.

How Does Radiation Therapy Work?

Radiation fights cancer by sending beams of electrons or particles to interact with strands of DNA in cells, causing breakages that make the cell unable to replicate, meaning a cancer cell can no longer divide to make two daughter cells. When the damaged cell tries to divide, it collapses and is cleared away by the body.

When Is Radiation Used?

Radiation is most often used to treat tumors that are locally aggressive and cannot be fully controlled with surgery. If the tumor is also aggressive throughout the body with a high chance of metastasis (spread of the cancer to other parts of the body), then radiation may be used for palliative care, to reduce the pain and other aspects of the tumor that affect the pet’s quality of life. Radiation may also be recommended as adjunct therapy, after surgical removal of the tumor, to target any cancer that could not be removed surgically.

Radiation therapy is performed several ways. Machines can shape the beam of radiation to the shape of the tumor and use precise positioning so that a very specific spot is treated each time.

Unlike humans, our animal patients require anesthesia for their treatments to ensure we are able to get them in the precise position.

How Much Radiation Is Given?

Doses of radiation therapy are calculated to optimize tumor control without harming nearby normal tissue. The total dose is divided into smaller doses, called fractions, that are given daily or every other day. The size of the fraction dose depends on the kind of tumor being treated as well as on how sensitive adjacent normal tissue is to radiation.

When the treatment goal is palliative, doses are lower to minimize side effects from the radiation. In more aggressive protocols, called definitive or curative protocols, higher total doses or higher dose intensity is used, which may cause short-term side effects.

What Are the Benefits and Side Effects of Radiation?

The most common side effects of radiation therapy in dogs are similar to those in people. The patients may experience skin redness or moisture for a short period of time. In cats the side effects are milder and may just be limited to short-term dry, flaky skin.

Radiation can cause effects that are delayed by many months or even years, and though these are rare and don’t necessarily impact quality of life, they can be permanent.

How quickly radiation therapy works depends on the tumor. Some, especially those growing rapidly, may regress very quickly. Other may shrink some during treatment and continue to shrink over following weeks or months.

Many pet owners have concerns about the side effects of radiation treatment. If radiation therapy has been recommended for your pet, your veterinary oncologist will work with you to develop a plan that maximizes your pet’s quality of life while minimizing side effects.