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Ring Around a Tumor: How Tiny Chemo Beads May Treat Your Pet’s Cancer

Often, when a veterinary surgeon removes a tumor, it’s followed up with chemotherapy and/or radiation. But there’s a new option that might protect your pet from a recurrence of the tumor, with fewer side effects and at a lower cost.

“After removing certain types of tumor surgically, we can implant a circle of tiny beads impregnated with a chemotherapy drug called cisplatin around the edges of the tumor,” said board-certified veterinary surgeon Dr. Phil Zeltzman. “These beads slowly release the drug and are then reabsorbed by the body.”

One of the major advantages of chemo beads is when they’re compared to the use of cisplatin in chemotherapy given intravenously (IV), which is the usual practice.

“Cisplatin given IV can cause severe kidney damage in dogs,” Dr. Zeltzman said. “But the beads administer a very small fraction of the dose you’d give IV, and greatly reduce that risk.” In fact, he said, the beads don’t seem to cause any of the general side effects common to IV chemotherapy, although they can cause local side effects such as skin irritation, swelling, and drainage.

The beads should ideally be implanted at the time the tumor is removed, because that’s when the margins are most obvious. Additionally, implanting the beads later in the course of the pet’s treatment, such as when a biopsy is back, means a second surgery under general anesthesia, with its associated risks and cost.

How effective are the beads? While they can stop the tumor from coming back, they do not protect against metastases. And they’re not the right choice for every kind of tumor, nor every patient. Dr. Zeltzman says he’s seen the best results in tumors such as anal gland carcinomas, soft tissue carcinomas, and thyroid tumors, among others.

One success story was Conan, a 9-year-old Lab with anal gland cancer. After Dr. Zeltzman removed the tumor and implanted the beads, Conan had a fast recovery and was soon back loving life – and the water!

“I call this a success story even though Conan did eventually pass away from cancer,” he said. “But he had an excellent quality of life, running, swimming and playing after his surgery. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family members, seven and a half months after his surgery. He was a very special dog, and I know his family treasured the many good months they had together.”

One big negative of the beads: You’ll need to wear gloves if you’re going to clean or touch any drainage from the incision area. Additionally, your dog will need to be kept away from other dogs and in a plastic cone that prevents chewing the area until it’s healed.

Additionally, because they’re still not in wide use, be sure to discuss chemo beads with the veterinary surgeon well in advance of surgery, to give her time to obtain them before your pet’s tumor is removed.

Are chemo beads right for your pet? Talk to a veterinary surgeon and find out!