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Building a 139-pound tribute to dogs and cats treated for cancer

ATLANTA – People track milestones in a variety of ways, from taking pictures to marking a calendar. At BluePearl Veterinary Partners specialty and emergency hospital outside Atlanta, team members are creating a wheelbarrow-sized ball of tape.

Veterinary technician Laura Abbott poses next to the ball of tape.

Veterinary technician Laura Abbott poses next to the ball of tape on Feb. 16, 2015. BluePearl photo.

The ball is made of medical tape and represents the more than 14,000 radiation treatments administered since the hospital began offering the service about eight years ago. When last weighed, the ball tipped the scales at 139 pounds.

The tape is used to position dogs and cats on the hospital’s linear accelerator. Also used for humans, the device delivers intense beams of radiation with the goal of destroying cancerous cells without damaging the surrounding tissue.

Each time the linear accelerator is used, a doctor or technician takes the tape from the pet and adds it to the ever-growing ball. It’s both a hospital tradition and a symbol of the many pets’ lives that were extended and improved due to the innovative care they received.

“Many people are surprised by the highly sophisticated treatments that are now available for pets,” said Nathan Lee, a board-certified veterinary radiation oncologist at BluePearl. “Radiation therapy is a rapidly growing field and an increasingly popular option for pet owners.”

The Atlanta BluePearl hospital treats as many as 14-16 radiation patients per day, five days a week, said Lee, who is one of fewer than 100 veterinary radiation oncology specialists in the world.

In some cases, the objective is to eliminate the cancer. But it can also be used to ease a pet’s suffering by shrinking a painful tumor. Another little-known fact: compared to humans, animals have a much better tolerance for radiation therapy and experience fewer side effects, Lee said.

A dog being treated with a linear accelerator. BluePearl stock photo.

A dog being treated with a linear accelerator. BluePearl stock photo.

According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, the top 10 common signs of cancer in cats and dogs include:

  • Persistent, abnormal swelling
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Loss of weight
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding or abnormal discharge
  • Offensive odor
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating

If your pet displays any of these symptoms, schedule an examination with your family veterinarian or visit a veterinary emergency hospital immediately.